“Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before”
The premise for this 2012 independent film is simple, but audacious. Jeff, played by Jake Johnson of New Girl fame, (not to be confused with Hawaiin peddler of insipid soft-rock Jack Johnson), a journalist whose career has hit a slump, spots the above ad in the classifieds and decides to investigate the man behind the announcement. Not being one to shoulder a heavy workload alone, Jeff uses two interns to help him in his investigations, Darius (Parks and Recreation’s queen of deadpan Audrey Plaza, in a role that was written for her) and Arnau (Karan Soni). They soon track down Kenneth, the mysterious perhaps-time-traveller (played by sometime screenwriter, director and producer Mark Duplass) and begin to unravel the truth behind his claims. Darius finds herself inadvertently being the lure in the journalistic sting to uncover whether Kenneth is crazy, or whether he really can travel through time.
Despite their initial cynicism, it emerges that each of the 3 journalists has a deeply personal reason for wanting to go back in time. Their investigation sees them veering between optimism and disbelief, while trying to work out if Kenneth is the real deal or just a deluded man with nothing else to look forward to in life.
The story explores ideas of belief and hope, as well as looking at my current favourite movie themes- getting older and growing up. Indeed, Jeff finds himself trying to hook up with his long-lost love from high school, leading to a great moment of realisation for him, that time is inexorably moving forward.
The film as a whole is somewhere between the clever twists of fellow independent-film-about-time-travel Primer and the 80’s romance of Pretty in Pink. As you’d expect from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, the word “quirky” can, and has, (repeatedly), been applied to Safety not Guaranteed. If you’re a fan of slick sci-fi action this is not going to be the film for you. If you like character-driven whimsy, with a side-line in comedy that has some unexpected sci-fi sprinkles, then it’s great fodder for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
4 out of 5