Review of Safety Not Guaranteed

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Based on an internet meme that actually appeared in a Backwoods Home Magazine classified ad almost two decades ago, this 2012 comedy film follows a magazine writer and two interns as they venture out to find a man who has posted an ad looking for a companion to time travel with.
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Movie Review: "Safety Not Guaranteed"

-- Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: August 9, 2012
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Genre: Romantic Comedy and Sci-Fi

If you saw an ad in the newspaper seeking a companion for time travel, what would you think? Would you be interested in answering the ad yourself? If not, would you wonder what kind of person would answer such an ad? This is the gist of the movie "Safety Not Guaranteed," a quirky movie loosely based on a real-life event.

In 1997, an ad was placed in "Backwoods Home Magazine." The person who placed the ad was seeking someone to travel through time. It became an Internet sensation and fodder for comedians and sci-fi followers alike. The ad stated:

"WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91, Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."

Derek Connelly discovered the ad in 2007 and began to wonder about both the person who placed the ad and the person who would answer it. He teamed up with his long-term writing partner Colin Trevorrow ("Saturday Night Live"), and they penned "Safety Not Guaranteed."

The movie follows the self-absorbed magazine writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) and his two interns, the always maudlin Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and the socially awkward Arnau (Karan Soni) as they travel from Seattle to a small, beach-front town called Ocean View to track down the person who placed the ad. They quickly learn that a guy named Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a stock clerk at the local grocery store, placed the ad. To get more information about Kenneth's supposed machine for time travel, Darius goes undercover as a potential time travel companion.

The movie is based on the ad, but the characters' personal lives are just as important and propel the movie forward. Jeff is more interested in winning back his ex-girlfriend, played by Jenica Bergere. However, he is also interested in helping Arnau lose his virginity. The only person who is really in Ocean View to cover the story is Darius.

Kenneth is hesitant to give Darius any information, including anything about the device. Although Darius is skeptical at first, she becomes drawn into the idea of time travel, if for no other reason than to escape her own sad life. She lives at home with her father and still carries guilt forged from an unpleasant conversation she had with her mother just before she is killed in a car accident.

The whole movie is about the concept of escape and dealing with the past. Jeff is trying to escape his womanizing so he can have a future with his old high school flame. Arnau is trying to escape the clutches of shyness so he can go on with his life as a successful writer. Kenneth is seeking redemption and just trying to find a place where he fits in. It is easy to understand why Kenneth, Darius, Jeff and Arnau might want to travel back in time and change some incidents.

"Safety Not Guaranteed" is an enjoyable movie. You get drawn in to the characters' lives, and you start to root for them as it becomes apparent that each one has serious obstacles to overcome. The writing is quirky and amusing; you can see that the lessons learned from being writing interns on "Saturday Night Live" were not wasted by either Connelly or Trevorrow. However, the ending is a bit of a letdown. When you create dark characters with equally dark pasts, wrapping everything up in a "And they lived happily ever after" package leaves the moviegoer disappointed and skeptical. In real life, deep-rooted problems, especially the kind that plague Kenneth, do not just magically disappear. But the movie expects you to believe that.

The actors in the movie play their roles very well. Johnson is believable as Jeff, and you find it easy to forge a love/hate relationship with him. Plaza is perfect as the delightfully flawed, almost tragic Darius, and Soni pegs socially awkward so well that you want to offer to help him yourself. But the true genius of the movie is Mark Duplass. Kenneth is a multifaceted person, and Duplass plays him perfectly. As the movie progresses, you realize that there is more to Kenneth than a sci-fi geek who wants to time travel. He has an agenda, and as the movie progresses, you realize that not only is it personal, it's borderline insane. Duplass does an excellent job of conveying the insanity that is just below the surface.

If you get a chance to view this movie, you should.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars