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'Safety' guarantees a lot of fun

Published September 05. 2012 05:02PM

"Safety Not Guaranteed" is a hybrid film. It's part indie film, part "mumble-core" and part science fiction.

The film, while it doesn't always work, is a charmer, mostly for its off-hand, casual and sometimes clunky screenplay, directing and acting.

The story centers on a Seattle monthly (we presume) magazine where the editor (Mary Lynn Rajskub, in what amounts to not much more than a cameo) assigns a reporter, Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) and two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), to write an article about the person who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for a traveling mission.

"Safety Not Guaranteed" states the ad hence the film's title.

Off go the trio go to Ocean View, Wash., not unlike Dorothy, the Tin Man and Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz."

What about the Lion, you might ask?

That would possibly be Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who placed the advertisement. He works at a home supply store, drives a beat-up yellow Datsun Z sports car, lives in what appears to be an abandoned house and, yes, is apparently working on some sort of time-travel gizmo.

And what a gizmo it is. We won't play spoiler. You will have to see it to believe it, but it is worthy of Dr. Emmet Brown's (Christopher Lloyd) contraption in "Back to the Future" (1985).

"Safety Not Guaranteed," not unlike this summer's "Moonrise Kingdom," imparts that sense of discovery. That being said, as with "Moonrise," you will either really like "Safety," react with an "eh," or really not like it.

Put me in the first camp.

Here's why: The characters in "Safety" are among the Kings of Quirkdom, in the tradition of those in "Sunshine Cleaning" (2008),"Juno" (2007), "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006) and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004).

Do you see a "sunny" theme here?

And this, in "Safety," filmed in the cloudy and rainy Northwest.

While "Safety" has no links, really, to these aforesaid films, it does share the sensibility of film-makers and actors not trying too hard. The film-makers don't play it safe. "Safety" could be compared, in a way, to contemporary rock groups who eschew corporate, designer label or mainstream trappings.

"Safety" is amusing in its own way. The performances seem particularly fresh. The actors don't really seem to be acting.

Aubrey Plaza ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "Funny People," TV's "Parks and Recreation," Upright Citizens Brigade Theater) is an intriguing presence as the intern, with a look of forlorn insolence and a resemblance to a young Mackenzie Phillips.

Jake M. Johnson ("21 Jump Street," "No Strings Attached," "New Girl") as the magazine writer, plays dislikable really well, so convincingly you can't much stand him.

Mark Duplass (director, with Jay Duplass, his brother, of "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" and "Baghead") plays Kenneth, the guy who placed the time-traveler ad, like a teddy bear with a gun. You never quite know what is going on between the ears of his disheveled head.

Director Colin Trevorrow, in his theatrical movie debut, working from a screenplay by Derek Connolly, also in his big-screen debut, keeps "Safety" right on the edge of believability.

One of my quibbles with the film is that the magazine writer is tooling around in a Cadillac Escalade SUV. Unless he is independently wealthy or perhaps an established writer working for The New Yorker or Vanity Fair, this seems a, ahem, stretch, to me especially at these prices at the gasoline pump.

The other has to do with the film's parallel storyline, concerning the character Liz (Jenica Bergere), a former high school classmate for whom Kenneth is still carrying the torch. She works in a beauty salon (which she apparently does not own, although this is not clear) and lives in a restored craftsmen bungalow.

One could chalk it up to inheritance, thriftiness or the divorce settlement she received from her ex, a professional athlete.

That said, "Safety Not Included" is worth taking the chance. Don't worry. You won't get hurt.

"Safety Not Included," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for language including some sexual references; Genre: Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 26 min.; Distributed by Film District.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Mark Duplass sings "Big Machine," written by Ryan Miller, over the "Safety Not Guaranteed" end credits.

Unreel, Sept. 7:

"The Words," PG-13: Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde and Zoe Saldana star in a romance-drama about a writer at the peak of his literary career.

"The Cold Light of Day," PG-13: Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver and Henry Cavill star in an action-thriller about a Wall Street trader's family being kidnapped while on a sailing trip i Spain.

"Bachelorette," R: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and James Marsden star in the comedy about friends asked to be bridesmaids of a high school woman they made fun of.

"Hello I Must Be Going," R: A romantic comedy starring Blythe Danner, Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Abbott and John Rubenstein about a divorcee who moves back in with her suburban parents.

"Rec 3: Genesis," R: A couple's wedding reception gets creepy when the guests become ill in the horror-thriller.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, Email Paul Willistein and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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