Movies: "Safety Not Guaranteed" | Arts & Culture
“Wanted: Someone 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 done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.”
That’s the classified ad that sets off the storyline of this sweet little indie, starring Aubrey Plaza, the taciturn April of TV’s “Parks and Recreation.”
Here, she’s Darius, a low-key intern at a lifestyle magazine in Seattle, who gets picked to accompany a total jerk of a reporter named Jeff (Jake M. Johnson, who played the principal in “21 Jump Street”) and Auran (Karan Soni), another repressed intern, to track down the source of the ad and get his story.
As it turns out, Jeff’s real motivation is to track down an old high school sweetheart and Auran spends all of his time playing video games, so it’s up to Darius to find the person who posted the ad. And that person turns out to be Kenneth (filmmaker Mark Duplass), a supermarket shelf stocker who is determined to go back to 2001, not to forestall the 9/11 attacks but rather to save his first love from what he says was a fatal accident.
When Darius tells him that she wants to travel back in time to prevent her mother’s senseless murder, Kenneth is ready to welcome her aboard -- provided she passes his marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat training.
So here we have three parallel story arcs. Will Jeff succeed in winning back his old flame (Kristen Bell), even though he can only describe his current life as revolving around his condo and his Cadillac Escalade? Will Auran find physical fulfillment among the nubile young women Jeff introduces him to? And will Darius and Kenneth actually go back in time together?
And what about those mysterious men in trench coats who seem to be following them around?
Writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow have come up with a clever little story, apparently based on an actual classified. What makes it work for us is the work of its youthful cast, particularly the four leading players. Plaza displays much more emotion in this role than we’ve seen in her TV performances. Duplass is convincing as a possibly nutty genius. Soni is sweet as the geek member of the investigative team. And Johnson positively shines as the obnoxious reporter who lets his interns do all the work for him while he does little but treat himself to his old girlfriend’s home cooking.
Accompanying the story is some nice Washington State scenery, courtesy of cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke, and tunes by the likes of Guster and Tramps & Thieves. One of my favorite end credits was this one: Time Travel Consultant: John Silveria. (He’s a cowboy poet.)
“Safety Not Guaranteed” is rated R, only for its language and one mild sex scene. I give it a B.