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'Seeking a Friend' just a 'Garden State' rehash

Published: Friday, June 22, 2012

Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012 18:07

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley

Directed by Lorene Scafaria

Rated R

Opens Friday

Grade: C-

From Ragnarok to the Rapture, for as long as there has been civilization, there has been someone predicting the end of it. We’ll avoid the theological implications, but we were supposed to have an apocalypse last year in October and most know about the supposed end of the world that’s been predicted this year. Mayans 2012, look it up.

It’s no surprise then that the world-ending conflict idea found its way into popular culture. Think of Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man,” which led to H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” to Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend.”

In fact, think of the last 20 years. Two major meteor movies, dozens of various natural disaster flicks including last year’s “2012,” zombies, alien invaders and global pandemics.

The question becomes, why? Why are stories involving the potential destruction of Earth so appealing? Post-apocalyptic as a story theme is easy, so we’ll just get that out of the way: the triumph or failure of the so-called human spirit, skewed by what caused the event in the first place.

But what about apocalyptic stories? The leading up to the end? Funny enough, the same idea applies; the triumph or failure of humanity by starting, stopping, fighting or accepting Armageddon, depending on the story.

By now it should be clear, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is an apocalypse movie. The culprit: a 70-mile wide asteroid. Time: three weeks. Goal: find lost love and family members.

The humor here is primarily found in the redundancy of the menial tasks such as laundry and mowing the lawn, and the unbridled freedom that some exhibit when everyone knows that it no longer matters. The problem, from a movie standpoint, is the tone doesn’t fit. That’s not to imply that an apocalypse movie can’t be funny – “Dr. Stangelove” being the best example – but reusing the offbeat, quirky humor that primarily centers around people’s inability to accept wears thin. It’s just not as interesting as others of its type.

But the subtext is amazing.

Steve Carrell reprises his tired, schlub role best seen in “Dan in Real Life” here, playing a lonely husband weighed down by unimaginable blandness. After his wife literally runs away, Dodge (Carrell) unexpectedly builds a friendship with his neighbor Penny, played by the adorable Keira Knightley. Dodge looks to find the one that got away, while Penny hopes to reach her family in time. Road trip, funny cameos and despair ensue.

The concept here is that it takes an Earth destroying event to force Dodge into life and with the clock ticking, inspire him to find that love. The movie gleefully tackles the question: if you had three weeks to live, what would you do? We can get into the whole idea of whether or not this planet matters, in the grand scheme of this universe or any other universes that might be out there. That’s not the focus here though, what is: a handful of lives connected by humanity’s impending demise, and, as expected, love.

“Seeking a Friend” posits, with the world coming to a close, how will the main characters adapt, or at the very least, resign themselves to their fate? With three weeks left, can anything truly be accomplished?

Unfortunately, those ideas – tied into the whole concept – add depth to what’s nothing more than a “Garden State” rip-off.

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