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” It’s the end of the world as we know it”…shortly. Or maybe it’s ” Apocalypse Very Soon “. I’m trying to sum up the premise of SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, but then the actual title works pretty well. Many mega-budget blockbusters work the CGI crews overtime to show the end of days in flicks like 2012 and INDEPENDENCE DAY, but just last year MELANCHOLIA took a quieter, more personal look at the big finale. Now that film is a real downer ( but very well done ) while SEEKING has many of the same elements but with a big dollup of humor. It’s also a love story about two people who find each other just as time ran out.

As the film starts a DJ fills us in on the bad, bad news. A fire has broken out on the space shuttle Deliverance ending its mission to destroy the several miles wide asteroid Matilda ( Hmm, so Deliverance fails to deliver ). No options are left. The big rock will crash into Earth within weeks. And that’s all folks!  Dodge ( Steve Carell ) and his wife are listening to this broadcast while parked. When the DJ goes back to music ( ” Oldies to the very end” ), the missus bolts from the car, and dashes into the darkness, never to be seen by her befuddled hubby again. Dodge goes into his office drone job the next day and returns  to his apartment where it’s business as usual with his older, Hispanic cleaning lady ( ” Next Tuesday, Nr. Dodge? More window!” ). Reluctantly he attends a big ” End of Us” party at the home of two married pals ( Rob Cordry and Connie Britton ), but nothing gets him out of his funk. Back home Dodge hears a noise outside his living room window. It’s a young woman, sitting on the fire escape, sobbing. Turns out it’s his down the hall neighbor ( they’ve never really met ), Penny ( Keira Knightly ). Seems she’s missed the last flight to England ( the airlines have ceased service ), so she won’t get to spend her last days with her family. Later, as mob violence nears the apartment building, Dodge convinces Penny to escape the city in her car. He knows somebody with an airplane. Along the way Penny hopes to help Dodge re-unite with the lost love of his youth ( turns out the letter from her to him got put in Penny’s mail slot ). As the two travel the  backroads they meet up with people handing the last days in very different ways. Will they get to their destinations before Matilda pays a visit?

So, there’s no big ” cast of thousands ” crowd scenes filling the screen. This is a much more intimate story. It’s interesting how peoplewe meet in the film handle the catastrophe in different ways. At the party Dodge attends everyone seems to be indulging in every possible vice ( comic Patton Oswalt has a great scene as a schlub who’s happy because Matilda’s leveled the sexual playing field ). While on the road they meet a trucker with a plan for his own end, also Penny’s survivalist ex-beau who believes he and his pals can start society over, a cop intent on keeping up his ticket quota, and ( maybe the funniest ) a chain bar/restaurant ( ala OFFICE SPACE, the wait staff is proud of their ‘flair’ ) that’s turned into its own nonstop orgy/haven. These vignettes are populated with terrific actors known mostly for TV ( nearly all of the Thursday night comedies are represented ). I won’t spoil the delightful surprises.  But the film is really the journey of Dodge and Penny. It’s good to see Knightly out of period costume although she’s playing a variation of the magical, free-spirited pixie that revives a stuck-in-a-rut, stodgy dude ( think GARDEN STATE and SWEET NOVEMBER ). Still with her lop-sided shaggy ‘do and thrift shop chic, she’s darned adorable and endearing. For most of the trip Carell’s her straight man ( along with the assorted eccentrics on the road ), and he’s a pretty gloomy gus, a close relative of his LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE guy. Fortunately he’s got great rapport with a veteran actor playing a man from Dodge’s past in the film’s final act. Carell’s just not allowed to show his gifts as this character as he did for so many years as Michael Scott of TV’s “The Office” ( now that fella’ ran the emotional gamut ). But somehow his unlikely bond with Knightly really works as we wait for the big curtain. This is quite an impressive first feature from writer/ director Lorene Scafaria. If you’re in the mood to escape the big explosions and crashes and spend some time laughing ( and perhaps tearing up ) with a top-notch group of actors then you need to seek out SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.

Overall Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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