In some lights, he’s handsome—almost classically so—but is there another actor more squirmy and strange in face than Steve Carell? Look at the guy. This is his gift:
a fragile quality of unpersuasive manhood that carried him brilliantly through The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Office. But in Carell’s latest (a mostly somber end-of-the-world drama), we’re asked to accept him in a Von Trier–like asteroid-imminent scenario that just feels off. His character, Dodge, is not a sad-eyed comedy everyhero, but a doomed loner, partially reaching out to his flighty upstairs neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), the two of them trekking on an ominous road trip to reconnect with Dodge’s ex-girlfriend as the world approaches its tombstone.
The casting is spectacularly wrong, and even on its own scant merits, writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s screenplay has little insight into apocalyptic licentiousness, barring a tart line or two. (“Nobody’s anybody’s anything anymore,” says a friend’s flirtatious wife, but the scene hangs in tonal limbo.) Do we applaud the risk? Not when our takeaway includes such carpe diem banalities as: Listen to those old vinyl records and savor them. Or: Go hang out on the beach with a bunch of serene strangers in robes. The movie is way too gauzy to contain a serious comment; nowhere is this felt more than at the moment when mighty Martin Sheen shows up as Dodge’s deadbeat dad, stumbling in a conversation with Carell’s stammering manchild. Who is going to mourn these trite types? Sometimes, asteroids have the right idea.
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