Safety Not Guaranteed

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, and Karan Soni
Distributor: Rialto Films
Runtime: 85 mins. Reviewed in Oct 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Sexual references and coarse language

An advertisement has been placed in a paper by an unknown person looking for someone to help with time-travelling. The Ad asks for someone to go back in time, but who would be willing to be paid later. The Ad further goes on to say: “Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed”.

Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is a disillusioned cadet-reporter working for the Seattle Weekly magazine, and the decision is made to do a story on the Ad. Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson) is given the assignment of following up the Ad, and he selects Darius to help him. Arnau (Karan Soni), an Indian student-intern, also volunteers. The team of three is a motley array of individuals. Jeff is only interested in taking the assignment, so that he can find his ex-girlfriend. Darius has a personality which is steeped in cynicism, but she is attracted by the absurdity of the Ad. Arnau is shy, naïve and pathologically serious, but is open to change through experience.

All three go looking to find the person, who lodged the Ad. The person they locate is Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), who works at a local grocery store in Ocean View, Washington. He is obsessed with guns, and he steals lasers from nearby laboratories. Kenneth believes that secret agents are following him, and tracking his every move. Slowly, Darius comes to trust Kenneth, and begins to form an attachment to him. Kenneth wants to travel back in time to find a girlfriend he says died in a car accident. Jeff learns that she is actually still alive, and Kenneth takes that as evidence that time-travel actually works. Convinced Kenneth is mad, Jeff forces him to flee into the surrounding woods. Darius pursues him, while two men, who could be secret agents, lurk near-by. With everyone watching, Kenneth beckons Darius, activates his gadget-laden boat, and they both disappear into the ether.

The film unravels a complicated plot with beguiling freshness and charm. It mixes science fiction, romance, comedy and drama, and has the potential to appeal enormously to anyone, who is willing to stay young in mind. The film vibrantly keeps alive the thought that, rather than being crazy, Kenneth might really be able to travel back through time. Although the movie is built around a science fiction theme, it has very few special visual effects, and it relies heavily on the performances of its main actors, who are wonderfully spontaneous in what they say and do.

The zany nature of the script skirts the line brilliantly between the real and the surreal, and is an important part of why the comedy is so enjoyable. The film also communicates uplifting messages around the themes of regret, loneliness and the need to connect. Despite the film’s concluding scenes, one doesn’t really need to know whether time travel is possible, or not. What is most important is the fact that Kenneth and Darius overcome the obstacles, and hold fast to their attachment to each other.

The film is odd, quirky and highly engaging. This is a clever, likeable movie that has great acting, and is directed very creatively. The film looks unusually for joy in taking chances, and achieves it. Further, it plays with the notion that people’s seeming fabrications might eventually turn out to reflect grains of truth. Some of the scenes in the movie are delightfully comic. Darius, under Kenneth’s tuition, for instance, undergoes physical training to prepare her for warfare and hand-to-hand combat when she goes back in time, but she never knows for what she is actually preparing.

This is an original film with heart, which finds joy in pursuing the seemingly impossible. Kenneth’s time machine may be a metaphor, or a plot device, or maybe just plain unreal, but the film makes you think about things in the past that are worth returning to, and it does so without any obvious signs of self-consciousness, manipulative crafting, or sentimentality.

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