Rage Tweeting is never a good thing.
Nor is being so focused on sending a message on screen you neglect the story surrounding it.
Adam McKay falls into that trap, again, with “Don’t Look Up.” The “Vice” director wants to scare us anew about Climate Change, the not-so-subtle mission behind this Netflix satire. He’s too angry to pull it off, though, stuffing the screen with on-the-nose quips and a hero delivering one spittle-fueled rant after another.
Just in case we didn’t get the message the first dozen times.
Leonardo DiCaprio, one of Hollywood’s biggest eco-hypocrite, stars as Dr. Randall Mindy, a bookish astronomer who stumbles upon a frightening find with help from a grad student, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence).
A comet is hurtling straight toward the earth, and when it strikes it’ll be an “extinction-level” event.
Quick! Call the president!
That’s precisely what they do, but President Orlean (a hammy Meryl Streep, never a good sign) can’t be bothered with their urgent plea. She’s worried about the midterm elections and dealing with her hapless Chief of Staff (who happens to be her son, played by Jonah Hill).
You sense Hill’s character is what Team McKay thinks Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump are like in real life, except that doesn’t mesh with reality.
Still, so far, so good. McKay holds a tight leash on the material, and the administration’s checked out approach is worth some smiles. Plus, the director knows how to package pop culture into digestible morsels.
Even the film’s title font selection is inspired.
President Orlean essentially punts on the whole, “end of the world” warning, but she soon finds a way to weaponize the disaster on her terms. It’s not immediately clear that McKay hired Streep as a Trumpian stand-in, but by the third act you’ll want to scream, “he’s out of office … you can stop now. Please.”
There’s literally nothing brave about mocking Trump from a pop culture platform by now.
What follows is a frenzied, distracting satire that never gets close to that big, elusive belly laugh. Dr. Mindy starts an implausible romance with a TV show host (Cate Blanchett, amusing in a role that lacks clarity) and loses his faith in his own science.
Kate, meanwhile, struggles to warn her fellow humans of the impending disaster. She’s unwilling to play by the media’s rules, essentially casting her out of polite society and into the arms of a skater dude (Timothee Chalamet).
“Don’t Look Up,” like McKay’s “Vice,” has so many targets it wants to hit the result is disorienting and shallow. Over and again we watch characters obsess over their smart phones, all the while missing news that could impact their very existence.
Get it? We’re too distracted by social media! We care more about celebrity romances than the earth’s immediate future! Those aren’t fresh observations, but McKay deserves credit for capturing how swiftly an embarrassing moment can yield a viral-worthy meme.
It goes without saying that McKay has no interest in the rise of Fake News (the sort peddled by formerly respectable news outlets), or how we’ve been trained to distrust “experts” in the age of COVID-19. When hundreds of health officials cheer on Black Lives Matter protests but stay silent on our porous border, you know the fix is in.
A satirist worth his or her salt might even make a movie about that. Instead, Hollywood did just the opposite. Still, we’d hang with this disaster-born satire if it were funnier and featured characters we gave a hoot about.
If you think the main cast is starry enough, we haven’t even gotten to Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Melanie Lynskey and Mark Rylance, cast as a Mark Zuckerberg style mogul. He’s another one-joke element in a film overflowing with them.
And every 20 or so minutes a key character flies off into a rage, essentially McKay’s way of shaming anyone who doesn’t believe Climate Change could end the world, too.
Better tell his leading man that!
“Don’t Look Up” dabbles in “Spinal Tap” style mockery, introducing pop songs capturing the film’s warring factions. You may want to skip the Closed Captioning when the film hits Netflix. The lyrics are both over-the-top and witless.
You know McKay wants to rally the Trump Derangement Syndrome crowd during several segments, but that attempt falls flat given the nuclear-level incompetence of the current administration.
You can control everything on a movie set … except the cultural zeitgeist.
The film’s third act goes precisely where you expect it will go, and that lack of surprise, combined with characters who make little sense, prove deadly to its satirical aims.
McKay is not without his gifts. His early films (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers”) scream just that. His foray into “serious comedy,” “The Big Short,” featured him mostly staying on message with slick results.
He could use a collaborator of consequence moving forward, though – not someone like the far-Left David Sirota who teamed with McKay for a story credit here.
The best satirists see the humanity in their subjects. McKay, clearly, can’t view anyone outside his world view with much empathy. “Don’t Look Up” is the natural, depressing result.
HiT or Miss: “Don’t Look Up” starts strong but quickly bludgeons us with more overt lectures than laughs.