DON’T LOOK UP – Review
What if the world did not respond the way it always does in every disaster movie to an impending doomsday invasion, meteor or – comet? What if the real world faced a giant “planet-killer” comet on a collision course with Earth? Would they come together to save the planet, like they always do in the movies? That is the question Oscar-winning director/writer Adam McKay (THE BIG SHORT) asks in his satiric comedy DON’T LOOK UP.
The comedy features a top-tier cast, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy, an astronomy professor at a Midwestern university, whose graduate student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers the giant comet. When Dr. Mindy figures out the comet’s terrifying trajectory, a deadly collision course with Earth, the pair set out to alert the federal government about the threat. The cast includes Meryl Streep as President Orleans, Jonah Hill as her Chief of Staff/son, Cate Blanchett as the co-host of a TV talk show with Tyler Perry as her co-host, Mark Rylance as a quirky tech billionaire who seems to have Asperger’s, Ron Perlman as a gung-ho former military hero, plus Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande and more.
DON’T LOOK UP is humor in the vein of DR. STRANGELOVE with a side of IDIOCRACY and a modern media slant, but with a bigger cast of idiots and hence more potential for things to go wrong. This satire is an equal opportunity ridiculer, taking swipes at all targets with range, from inarticulate scientists who can’t make a dire situation clear, to politicians wanting to use impending disaster to improve their party’s chances in the mid-term elections, to media talkers more enamored with the “hot” scientist’s good looks than his heated message, to political forces just denying facts and urging people to “don’t look up.” In DR STRANGELOVE, at least they could agree on the problem (well, mostly). In DON’T LOOK UP, as the title implies, denial abounds.
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this satiric comedy. Both DiCaprio and Lawrence are excellent as the alarmed scientists, increasingly frustrated that they message is not being taken seriously. The pair find a key ally in their effort to get something done to avert worldwide destruction in Rob Morgan’s Dr. Oglethorpe, a scientist at the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, a real NASA agency tasked with watching out for extra-terrestrial threats like this comet, as the film notes. Oglethorpe quickly arranges a meeting with the President for the two scientists, who are then sworn to secrecy and whisked away on a military transport jet to D.C. But once in the White House, they find themselves stuck waiting in a hallway, while President Orleans (Meryl Streep) deals with “more pressing” problems. After all, the comet isn’t going to hit the Earth for another six months.
Once the astronomers meet with the President and her Chief of Staff, (a very funny Jonah Hill), who also happens to be her son and occasionally slips up by calling her “mom,” things do not go well. Their “sky is falling” message is met with eye-rolling, and pressure to say the chance of a planet-killing direct hit by the enormous comet is less than the 100% the scientist insist on. The President’s focus is more on making the threat look less certain for PR reasons than finding a way to deflect the comet and avoid the planet’s destruction. No action is decided on, the White House will assess, and the scientists are instructed to keep their discovery secret in the meanwhile.
They don’t, thanks to the quick work by their ally Oglethorpe, who gets them on a morning talk show, The Daily Rip. But the happy-talk co-hosts, played marvelously by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry, are focused on finding the lighter side of this impending doom and on the good-looking professor. When Jennifer Lawrence’s the graduate student loses patience with them, her outburst does not play well on social media.
With the information revealed, the White House decides doing something about the comet might play well in the mid-term elections and the whole media/political circus gets rolling. Eventually, the President brings in a retired military hero, played by a blustering Ron Perlman, to head an mission to address the problem, and later a quirky tech billionaire, played with chilling style and the world’s whitest smile by Mark Rylance, who has another, profitable idea. Forces line up on either side of an “issue” that isn’t one.
Rylance’s performance is one of the stand-outs in this comedy, particularly in a tense scene with DiCaprio, where the astronomer tries to persuade the businessman to accept the input of expert scientists in finding a solution, only to be buried in a recital of the chillingly detailed personal information on the scientist that the ego-driven billionaire has collected on him, although it is irrelevant to the situation.
While the laugh-out-loud moments are plentiful, some might find its broad swipes on all sides too obvious, no matter how true they may be. The comedy draws parallels to some issues and takes aim at even more, and it is that broad focus that is a bit of a problem. While DR STRANGELOVE is focused on a single topic, nuclear war, DON’T LOOK UP can’t always maintain a single focus as it takes aim at host of problems that prevent the world coming together to solve a global threat. Bouncing from one example of self-destructive idiocy to another as it lands comic bombs, it diffuses its central focus. It is a flaw that makes this well-intentioned, talent-packed satire less the direct mocking hit it should be, despite its moments of gold and strong comic performances.
DON’T LOOK UP opens Friday, Dec. 10, in theaters, and debuts on Netflix on Dec. 25.
RATING: 3.5 out of 4 stars