Adam McKay started his film career as a director making that Anchorman movie. I couldn’t finish it. I think I sat through Stepbrothers once. Maybe twice. I liked The Other Guys. But there’s only so many movies starring Will Ferrell that you can make before people start just associating you with Ferrell.
Eventually you have to break free and reportedly McKay and Ferrell aren’t on good terms right now. He won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Big Short so he wasn’t quick to do a third Anchorman movie. Vice about Dick Cheney had problems but Christian Bale saved it with a performance to the core of Cheney.
His latest movie Don’t Look Up is an attempt at satire. I saw attempt because satire is a tricky genre. There’s parody. And there’s mockery. I know, “to-may-to”, “to-mah-to.” But true satire accomplishes two things. It gets its message across and it tells a good story. Dr. Strangelove: Or I How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Network presented satire in a way that you could see the movies as drama if you didn’t catch the jokes. Even Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Mike Judge’s Idiocracy which went into absurdity still told good coherent stories.
Don’t Look Up doesn’t tell a good story. It’s too episodic in its delivery. It tries too damn hard like an Aaron Seltzer/Jason Friedberg parody cramming in every pop culture reference of the last few years into a movie. On the surface, it seems like it should be a South Park episode but Trey Parker and Matt Stone would’ve known how to cut it off before it got tedious. This movie is two hours and 18 minutes with a good 10 minutes dedicated to credits, mainly because there’s so many special effects.
There’s a huge cast too. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Mark Rylance, Ron Perlman, Rob Morgan, Arianna Grande, Timothee Chalamet and Melanie Lynskey round the cast with many other character actors. I was getting that McKay was channeling the 1970s disaster movies produced by Irwin Allen starring a lot of actors (Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, William Holden, Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene, Shelly Winters and Steve McQueen and much, much more).
But where McKay fails is the delivery. He’s trying too damn hard. This movie doesn’t know if it wants to be a disaster movie satire or a political satire or a political/entertainment satire. It’s all over the place.
DiCaprio and Lawrence play Dr. Randall Mindy, an astronomy professor at Michigan State University, and Kate Dibiasky, a MSU doctoral candidate in astronomy, respectively who discover a comet, about nine kilometers in diameter, is hurling toward Earth and will crash into Chile and end the world. So, they inform Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, (Morgan) head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which is a real agency because the movie informs us it is.
They all try to meet with President Janie Orlean (Streep) but can’t get a meeting as her son, Jason (Hill), who is also the Chief of Staff, doesn’t see them as important. There’s some subplot of how her Supreme Court nominee isn’t a lawyer or has a sex scandal. There’s too much and yadda-yadda-yadda, he’s done porn. Streep overacts and Hill just sucks in a thankless role that has him acting like a frat boy dudebro in every scene.
It’s obvious that McKay hates everyone in this movie. He hates all the characters to the point we don’t care about them. DiCaprio tries to do his best but Lawrence takes it too seriously. And after about half an hour into this movie, I realized it wasn’t going to get any better. It hit me why I wouldn’t like this movie early on, despite giving it a chance, forgetting some of the mixed and negative reviews it’s received.
As I was watching it, I realized this reminded me of Arrested Development, that famed TV show that was on Fox that received a lot of accolades. I never liked it. The reason I couldn’t stand that show after watching several episodes was that every line of every episode had to be a punchline. And then they dialed up the absurdity with the cast who seemed to be trying to one-up each other to get the final joke. Worse, the show committed the cardinal sin of giving people funny names just so they could have funny names.
Apparently, a lot of people thought Arrested Development was the way to write comedy and for the past two decades, a lot of comedy has been written that way. It’s very smug and smarmy. There’s a feeling that the writers are smarter than the people who they are making it for. And if you don’t get the joke, then you should laugh anyway. I felt the same way when that awful Borat movie came out in 2006.
McKay started out as a head writer on Saturday Night Live in 1995. If you’ve read Jay Mohr’s Grasping for Airtime, you realize that the writers of the show always thought they were smarter than anyone else. What irks me is that the comet hurling toward Earth is supposed to be a metaphor for climate change and how politicians, conservatives and especially corporations don’t want to do anything about it because it affects their saving accounts. But the movie immediately targets Internet crazes, the celebrity fascination in the news and people who never graduated high school thinking they know more than scientists.
The movie is all over the place without any intended target. And at times, it seems the characters disappear for no reason. Blanchett plays Brie Evantee, the co-host of a Infotainment show The Daily Rip, but after introducing her, McKay gives her nothing to do but have an affair with Mindy. The other co-host on the fake show is Jack Bremmer (Perry) who really doesn’t do much either. I think basically McKay had an idea and realized that if he cast enough famous faces, it would distract from the movie’s faults.
As a matter of fact, there was so pre-release focus on the enormous cast in the weeks leading up to it, the movie pretty criticizes its own fucking marketing scheme. And I for one, am sick and tired, of all these rich celebrities wagging their finger at people who aren’t famous and/or rich for focusing on celebrity news and gossip. And speaking of the Internet, does McKay think he would have much a future if he didn’t plaster his former man-crush Will Ferrrell all over the Internet? I’m mean, Jesus Christ, Ferrell owes the Internet to his success after manly lackluster movies in the 1990s outside his Austin Powers cameos. Remember that Internet short, The Landlord?
Now, years later, with his Oscar stuck up his ass, he thinks he’s a hybrid of Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Garrison Keillor. This movie falls apart long before the world ends. I can’t finish without mentioning the character of Peter Isherwell, (Rylanche) a tech billionaire is a top donor of Orlean who determines the comet has materials that could make people richer on Earth. So just as the world is preparing an Armageddon-style task to destroy the comet with Perlman in a thankless role as a gung-ho military person, they abort as Isherwell starts developing technology to harvest the comet in space.
It’s an interesting idea but like a lot of other things in this movie, the ideas are introduced but they go nowhere. This is where the whole climate change issue comes on as rich people and Americans feel the jobs and wealth available is worth the risk of the end of the world. But for reasons that make no sense, Mindy, Dibiasky and Ogelthorpe try to make people feel the comet is happening, as the movie goes completely off the rails with people denying the comet exists and when Mindy and Dibiasky post videos telling people to look up at the sky, Orlean and others tell people “Don’t look up.”
Like I mentioned earlier, McKay worked for SNL for many years and something like this might have worked as an eight-minute SNL skit but dragged over two hours, it’s becomes tedious that the joke isn’t funny anymore and repetitive. Paul Guilfoyle pops up as a Pentagon general who dupes Mindy and Dibiasky into thinking the White House charges for peanuts and water, but Dibiasky later finds out that’s not true and she keeps harping on it. Another joke is when they go to the White House, they’re given peanuts and bottled water for snacks. McKay thinks this is funny. It isn’t. It’s just padding the time out.
Worst, McKay resorts to Adam Sandler/Happy Madison sentimentality as Mindy’s marriage is on the skids, but as the comet is headed toward the Earth, he makes up with his wife and family and they have dinner with Dibiasky and her brother, Yule (Chalamet in a role that he just looks bored to be in) and Oglethorpe as the comet rules toward destroying Earth.
With how comedies have resorted to setting up big scenes only to have blunders as the joke, I was almost expecting McKay to resort to this. I was expecting maybe something like Mindy and Dibiasky getting their trajectories off or something like all the satellites hovering Earth in space to knock the comet off its trajectory or something silly as The Simpsons episode where the comet breaks about until its less the size of a chihuahua. But no, the world ends. Hardy-har-har.
They’re calling this one of the worst reviewed movies DiCaprio has made since The Great Gatsby and critics and audiences are sparring against each other, but it’s not entertaining and I don’t think people would want to sit through it again. Normally, actors like Rylance, who are good in no matter what they do can’t even save this. His performance as Isherwell is just terrible. With a Carl Sagan-like haircut and a gee-golly-gee attitude, it becomes so annoying I just skipped ahead through every time he’s on screen.
I believe climate change is real and there’s too much emphasis right now on corporate greed than the good of the world. But I can’t sit back and watch one of the filmmakers who basically gave us the “Frat Pack” movies and got rich while there were so many problems in the 2000s now try to blame the same people who made him famous for “dumbing themselves down.” This is a metaphor for biting the hand that feeds you. And for a movie that is mostly accessible on the Internet, McKay doesn’t see the irony of his movie.
What do you think? Please comment.