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Review: Safety Not Guaranteed – 1.21 gigawatts of heart

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Safety Not Guaranteed posterYour safety may not be guaranteed in this new romantic comedy with a sci-fi twist, but a fantastic film experience is assured in Safety Not Guaranteed, a small independent ‘nerdcentric’ movie with a lot of laughs and 1.21 gigawatts of heart.

Safety Not Guaranteed taps into what I think is probably every geek’s fantasy; to build a time-machine and then partner-up with an equally eccentric (and attractive) gal (or guy) to go on time-traversing adventures with.  This film is based on a real classified advertisement that read, “Wanted: Somebody 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. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”

The real original advertisement was placed in Backwoods Home magazine in 1997 by author John Silveira (who makes a cameo in the film as the first person to enter the post-office) and became an internet meme, eliciting hundreds of responses, from heart-breaking and funny to threatening and disturbing. You can read the very interesting story of the actual ad HERE.

The story in the film follows a reporter (Jake Johnson) for Seattle magazine who takes two interns, Darius and Arnau (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni), to the seaside community of Ocean View, Washington, to track down the person who placed the time-traveling ad, Kenneth (Mark Duplass). The reporter has ulterior motives for this trip and uses it as an expenses-paid vacation to hook-up with a former high-school flame that lives in the small town.

Safety Not GuaranteedThe two geeky interns take the assignment seriously though, especially Darius, who is a loner with deep-seated sadness over the loss of her mother when she was just a young girl. She is intrigued by the time-traveling advertisement and the eccentric man behind it and while investigating his story she becomes increasingly sympathetic to his goal and is eventually trusted and accepted by Kenneth as his mission’s partner.

Safety Not Guaranteed reminded me a lot of the book/film K-PAX, in that you are certain the protagonist, Kenneth, is insane, but you really hope he’s not – not only for his sake, but for the sake of Darius as well. Both characters have compelling and honorable reasons for wanting to travel back in time and you can’t help but root for them.

The performances in Safety Not Guaranteed are very nice and Aubrey Plaza (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Darius is entrancing as the delightfully nerdy intern who any time-traveler would welcome on their mission. Mark Duplass, who co-wrote and co-directed the similarly toned film from earlier this year, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, also does a great job as the kooky store clerk turned time-traveler, Kenneth.

Safety Not GuaranteedSafety Not Guaranteed is written by Derek Connolly and it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The script is full of pop culture references that are a lot of fun and never seem gratuitous or out of place. The movie was directed by Colin Trevorrow and it is his first feature film.

This is a minor complaint, but the only part of this very entertaining film that didn’t work for me was the unnecessary side-story regarding the reporter and his high-school sweetheart. The arrogant reporter, Jeff, is not a character you ‘love to hate,’ I just hated him and could find no reason for him or his ‘lost-love’ to be in the movie. I kept hoping there was something that would tie him or his story to the rest of the film; and I get that there is strained time-traveling allegory there, but it was a harmful distraction in this otherwise perfectly sweet film. Director Trevorrow defends the character of Jeff, in our NERDVANA interview, as a necessary balance to the movie’s saccharine-laced heart.

I’m a sucker for time-travel films and although there may or may not be any actual time-travel in Safety Not Guaranteed, it was fun to discuss and explore the possibilities and potentialities after the movie was over. While it’s far from the scope & scale summer heavy-weights like The Avengers and Prometheus, this is a great date movie and one you’ll enjoy talking about and thinking about for a long time after the credits roll.

Safety Not Guaranteed is currently only playing in limited release at the Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale, but it is highly recommended and worth the trip.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.