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Review: 'Safety Not Guaranteed' is sweet and eccentric

The film, inspired by a real classified ad, stars Aubrey Plaza as a magazine intern and Mark Duplass as a man who thinks he can time travel.

June 08, 2012|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in "Safety Not Guaranteed."
Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in "Safety Not Guaranteed." (Benjamin Kasulke, FilmDistrict )

It is one of the great classified ads of our time, and it leads to an unexpected and endearing film that is as deliciously off-center as the words that ignite it:

"WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."

The film is"Safety Not Guaranteed,"and its success is both delightful and unlikely. As sweet as it is eccentric — and it is wildly eccentric — this is a warm movie in cynical disguise, a story that takes a handful of thoroughly modern characters, places them in a classic screwball comedy plot, and lets nature take its course.

The deserved winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, "Safety" does spend considerable time on the concept of time travel, but it's really about love, attraction, the power of belief and what's important in life. Just so you know.

Created by writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow, both first-time feature makers, "Safety" (inspired by an actual classified ad) can't be described in any way that's as enticing as it is to experience. Because nothing plays out as anticipated, this off-balance project comes fully alive on screen in a way a written summary can't capture.

The film's key roles have been expertly created by the combination of smart writing and effective acting, starting at the top with indie flavor of the moment Mark Duplass and costar Aubrey Plaza (TV's"Parks and Recreation").

First up is Darius (Plaza), introducing her so-called life in a tart voice-over that concludes "I expect the worst and try not to get my hopes up." A recent college graduate living at home and still not recovered from the shock of her mother's unexpected death a few years back, Darius works as an unpaid intern at Seattle Magazine, where she buys toilet paper in bulk and dodges the darts of the acerbic editor in chief (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

A typically tedious staff meeting takes an unexpected turn when staff writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) brings up that classified ad, which asks that replies be sent to a post office box in scenic Ocean View, Wash.

Commandeering the services of Darius and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni), a serious science major looking to broaden his resume, Jeff asks for and gets the assignment to go to Ocean View and "do a little tongue-in-cheek investigation. I think it could be funny."

What party animal Jeff really thinks is that a visit to Ocean View will be a chance to look up Liz (Jenica Bergere), a hot number old girlfriend from his teenage years he has fantasized about for decades but not seen. Which leaves Darius to connect with Kenneth, a grocery store clerk and writer of the ad who turns out to be easy to track down but hard to get to know.

As played by Duplass, who has rarely been as effective as he is here, Kenneth is a purist, a super-serious, unending earnest eccentric. Paranoid about being followed, given to saying things like "the technology I've invented can't be understood by the average man," Kenneth believes to the core of his being that time travel is possible and repeatable.

Initially wary (who wouldn't be), Darius pretends for the sake of the story to be interested in being on Kenneth's team, but the more time she spends with him, the more Darius is intrigued by the man. Kenneth's fanatically detailed preparation and the intensity of his totally non-ironic belief touches something in her she can't even admit to herself. Now only if he didn't believe in time travel …

Because "Safety Not Guaranteed" is wholly committed to all of its odd characters, we are swayed by them as well. Neither we nor they can ever be entirely sure where any of these surprising story lines are taking us, and that's a feeling that is all too infrequent these days.


'Safety Not Guaranteed'

MPAA rating: R, including some sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: At AMC Century City

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