Don't Look Up review: The sky is falling in Adam McKay's starry, silly disaster flick
Adam McKay has made a rich career out of satire — an equal-opportunity parodist of blundering NASCAR drivers (Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), walrus-mustachioed TV bohunks (Anchorman), and rogue vice presidents (Vice). In 2015's The Big Short, he gave us Margot Robbie explaining subprime mortgages in a bubble bath and Ryan Gosling breaking down big-bank malfeasance with a stack of Jenga blocks.
So he seems like exactly the guy, in other words, to take on the broad insanity of… whatever you would call the last five years of American life. And that is what the writer-director does — indeed pretty broadly — in Don't Look Up, a winking indictment of climate-change deniers and alternative-fact peddlers told on a global scale. The result feels a little like Mars Attacks!, if the call were coming from inside the house: a disaster movie all dressed up for the apocalypse with too many movie stars to count and not quite enough punchlines.
Which isn't to say it's no fun: The film (in theaters this Friday and on Netflix Dec. 24), gets enough mileage out of Cate Blanchett's bioluminescent teeth alone to nearly justify the ride. But McKay seems hamstrung perhaps by the sheer absurdity of what he's supposed to be lampooning; how do you parodize a parody? You start by putting two of the world's most famous actors in normal-people drag: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are, respectively, Dr. Randall Mindy and Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky, both astrophysicists at Michigan State. He's a nice, anxious dad with an overgrown goatee and a comfy sweater bod; she's got two nose rings and looks like an angry bird cut her bangs with kitchen shears.
What's not in doubt is the pair's scientific bona fides, and Kate has found a comet that has a 100 percent chance of impacting Earth in just over six months and destroying it entirely. That discovery quickly earns them an audience with President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), a power-suited #LadyBoss with a blond cascade of Real Housewife barrel curls and a picture of herself with Steven Seagal in a place of pride on her Oval Office desk. Her reaction to the news, eagerly supported by her frat-boy son and chief of staff (Jonah Hill), is to "sit tight and assess." It's weeks before the midterms, see, and if everybody on the planet learns they're about to die in a ball of fire, they'll lose the election — which is just, you know, atrocious timing for everyone.
There's also a billionaire mogul named Peter Isherwell, played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance as a sort of eerie bionic wraith (no one ever explicitly says which tech CEO inspired him, though there's a good chance it rhymes with Shmark Shmuckerberg). Peter has his own plans for the comet, and his own "scientists" too. Randall and Kate going on a popular info-tainment show hosted by Blanchett's gleaming, ruthless Brie Evantee and her jocular coanchor Jack Brenner (Tyler Perry) doesn't really help their case; Kate's desperate Howard Beale speech when she realizes that both hosts, like the POTUS, care more about their own Q ratings than the end of the world make her nothing but an instant laughing-stock meme.
McKay lands a few clean arrows in all this, not least with Rylance's spooky plasticity (the banality of evil, indeed). And his casting cup overruns almost casually with A-list guests, from a distinctly silly Ariana Grande cameo to a charming and markedly more substantial turn by Timothée Chalamet as a delinquent skateboarder with a thing for Kate's choppy bangs. (Melanie Lynskey is great too as Dr. Randall's too-wise wife, semi-abandoned in the wake of his astronomical new fame.) Frankly, it's almost enough just to watch them all run around in states that range from manic panic to Zen serenity while McKay employs his usual coterie of meta tricks and treats. But it's hard not to long for the shrewder movie that might have been: Not just a kooky scattershot look, but a deeper truer gaze into the void. Grade: B
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