Keira Knightley and Steve Carell star in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," in theaters now.
Keira Knightley and Steve Carell star in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," in theaters now.

"Seeking a Friend" still seeking direction

What would you do if the world was ending in three weeks?

That's the lofty question Steve Carell, Keira Knightley and writer/director Lorene Scafaria look to tackle in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World." It follows the unlikely pair of Dodge (Carell) and Penny (Knightley) as they set off on a road trip to find his long-lost love and right her relationship with her estranged family.

It's harder than it sounds, considering almost the entire world's population has decided to give work the finger and spend their last days on Earth wallowing in selfish excess. The movie opens with Dodge's wife running away from their unhappy marriage (literally) and continues in spurts with all the off-the-wall things you'd imagine people would do if all social convention went out the window. There are some funny scenes – kids encouraged to chug hard liquor by adults, employees of a knock-off version of TGI Friday's hosting a drug-fueled orgy – in addition to run-of-the-mill anarchy like looting and rioting. It's chaotic – but then again, what apocalypse wouldn't be?

The audience is along for the ride as Dodge and Penny stumble through the ups and downs of end times, for better or for worse. Their journey plays out like a board game: roll the dice, advance a few spaces, hit a good/bad obstacle, repeat. The cast of extraneous characters piles up as they skip between one fortuitous circumstance after another. Even the pair themselves is a match made in convenient plot heaven – the depressed mid-life crisis man and the flighty hipster girl join forces, work through conflict and become an us-against-the-world unit.

If there's one redeeming aspect of "Seeking a Friend," it's Carell's performance. It's not unlike what he turned out for "Dan in Real Life," but his role as Dodge is more earnest. It's almost a shame that he gets tangled up in the bohemian weirdness that is Knightley's Penny, who is a cliched, attention-seeking wreck. She's static and uninteresting and appears all the more so matched up against Dodge's dynamic, sentimental character arc.

"Seeking a Friend" has a lot going on. The funny parts work; Carell's honest, emotional portrayal works. The movie as a whole, with its tenuous storyline and frequent tangents, does not. At least a handful of times I had to pull away from the action onscreen to regroup and remember what the actual objectives were. "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" is a nice try, but it tried to be too much of everything – and ended up being not enough of anything.


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