Don’t Look Up (2021)
Don’t Look Up (2021)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 25 min.

Release Date: December 24th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Adam McKay Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Melanie Lynskey, Ron Perlman, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Michael Chiklis, Himesh Patel, Ariana Grande, Rob Morgan

 


 

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stronomers Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) are thrilled to discover a previously unidentified comet. “Why does the ephemeris keep getting lower and lower?” Upon closer inspection, it would appear that the celestial body is on a collision course with Earth, sparking immediate concern. But when their information is presented to space center employees, doctors from planetary defense organizations, NASA chiefs, the Pentagon, and finally to the President of the United States (Meryl Streep), Kate and Randall are met with frustrating roadblocks and red tape. And they only have a mere 6 months before the estimated trajectory finds the comet making a direct hit.

It’s an extinction-level event, to be caused by a 9-kilometer-wide space rock. But what exactly can these scientists do with this classified data? Panicking just doesn’t seem to be enough. In the world of writer/director Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” “Vice”), this somewhat sensible premise is inundated with a busy style, from interruptive title graphics to sequences stuttering across the timeline to abrupt stops or transitions to freeze frames and more. It’s clearly an instance of forcing comedy through editing. Plus, there’s his signature use of an enormous ensemble cast – including Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Mark Rylance, Ron Perlman, Timothee Chalamet, Tyler Perry, and even the likes of Ariana Grande.

But those expected gimmicks (alongside an upbeat, jazzy score and overlapping conversations – like a comical version of Robert Altman’s scripting) aren’t quite enough to offset the strangely unintentional realism of this setup. What was likely meant to be a satirical approach to a very serious situation instead comes across as all too believable. Either no one understands the gravity of the facts or they don’t care – until it can help them politically. The fictional congressional deadlock here makes action against impending doom all but impossible – perhaps exactly what would happen if this scenario were true. The commentary on abuses of power and governmental corruption is simply too on-the-nose for the laughs to break through; it’s practically a documentary as it examines the ways in which politicians react and respond to the next apocalyptic, approval-rating-interfering conflict.

“Don’t Look Up” works to skewer social media, the press, entertainment programs, show biz, tech moguls, the U.S. government, modern society, and more, but its brand of lampooning is entirely too obvious. It’s certainly no myth that humankind has been desensitized to anything that isn’t clickbait material or meme-worthy or that has the potential to go viral; when news doesn’t trend or poll well, it isn’t worth fussing over. And when facts can be politicized or used to divide, factions of deniers arise. The film attempts to ask what it might take to get people to believe in peer-reviewed, scientifically-proven sets of information, but it’s already resigned to the idea that the populace has long since moved beyond the ability to agree to any particular source of reliability. Greed, exploitation, and manipulation govern influence, keeping the wealthy in power and everyone else in line – again, just like in bureaucratic reality.

Fortunately, despite the depressing yet levelheaded viewpoint on the current sociopolitical climate, there are moments of humor that work, including several excellent comic-relief performances, namely by Jonah Hill and Mark Rylance as a nepotistic appointee and a tech tycoon, respectively. But these funny bits don’t lend to a funny whole, considering the screenplay oftentimes feels like a series of “The Onion” articles stitched together, while the plot shifts from the verge of actuality to “Zoolander” levels of unsubtle mockery to a sci-fi finale. And since its primary goal is to provide laughter amid its damnation of human apathy toward graft and the unchecked overreach of monopolistic corporations, it’s much, much too long.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10