By Don Simpson | June 14, 2012
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Starring: Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jenica Bergere, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin
In 1997, a classified ad was published in Backwoods Home Magazine: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. You must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” It turned out to be a hoax. Nonetheless, the clever classified ad spread like wildfire around the Internet. Years later, screenwriter Derek Connolly decided to use the classified ad as a basis for a story and Colin Trevorrow was brought on board to direct the film.
In Treverrow’s oh-so-twee indie comedy, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) is a magazine writer who convinces his editor (Mary Lynn Rajskub) that he should do an expose piece on the author of the aforementioned classified ad. Jeff rounds up two socially awkward interns and the unlikely threesome head to a coastal town outside of Seattle to track down the self-proclaimed time traveler. It is difficult not to hate the cocky, sleezebag, jackass of a journalist — especially once we learn Jeff’s two motives for the business trip: to make a public mockery of whoever wrote the classified ad and to visit an old high school sweetheart (Jenica Bergere).
Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is one of Jeff’s interns. She is a loner who seems to hate most humans. Darius does not “get” people and she certainly does not want to connect with them. Of course this means that she must dye her hair black and wear black eyeliner. Darius is essentially a goth chick who wears black on the outside because black is how she feels on the inside. You know the kind. And, that’s all well and good — I totally get that Darius is depressed and anti-social — my problem is that more often than not Darius seems more like a cute Hollywood starlet who spends most of her time flirting with the camera.
Jeff’s other intern is Arnau (Karan Soni). Poor Arnau. He is a shy and incredibly bright college student who has zero self-confidence and is destined to be a virgin for the rest of his life. First and foremost, Arnau is nothing more than an Indian stereotype whose sole purpose in this film is comic relief.
The only character who has more than one dimension is the incalculably complex, purported time traveler, Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Masculinity and machismo is juxtaposed with a near crippling sense of paranoia. Kenneth might be heartbroken, Kenneth might be a genius, but Kenneth might also be a total fraud.
Darius goes undercover, pretending to be interested in becoming Kenneth’s time traveling companion. Deep down inside, though, Darius hopes that Kenneth can — and will — take her into the past. Both Darius and Kenneth are emotionally damaged from past events which they would desperately like to go back and change. Kenneth sees in Darius a dysfunctional and lost soul not unlike himself. They begin to train together but Kenneth refuses to reveal the time traveling device to Darius, therefore her skepticism continues to grow…
Safety Not Guaranteed rests solely upon the shoulders of Mark Duplass, whose amazing performance saves this film from utter ruin. But it seems not even Duplass could steer Connolly and Trevorrow away from making a horrible mistake with this film’s ending. If Safety Not Guaranteed would have ended five minutes earlier, I might have been willing to give it a little more slack; but Connolly and Trevorrow take this story to the exact place where it should have never gone.