REVIEW: Don’t look at the screen when ‘Don’t Look Up’ is on

So, this movie sure got people talking.

“Don’t Look Up” is the latest feature from director/writer Adam McKay, and centers on a scenario where there’s a comet headed toward Earth. The scientists who discover the comet, Randall (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate (Jennifer Lawrence) immediately inform the federal government after their discovery, with the hope that action is taken.

Unfortunately, they’re not exactly met with a warm welcome at the White House. The president, played by Meryl Streep, is much more concerned with optics and doesn’t particularly trust scientific evidence. As a result, Randall and Kate have to try to work with an ineffective head of state, while also trying to get air-time in a world where’s there’s apparently just one television show.

“Don’t Look Up” is like a Saturday Night Live bit that goes on too long, stretched over a two and a half hour runtime, with some dramatic elements sprinkled in along the way. The movie is clearly about the real roadblocks that have held back action on combating climate change.

That’s perfectly fine, good even. Plus, McKay isn’t a stranger to making a dramedy with a powerful political punch. His 2015 picture “The Big Short” was one of the best films that year.

However, the execution feels botched with “Don’t Look Up.” The film just keeps making the same jokes over and over, often portraying a bone-headed president and a pop culture obsessed media in an exaggerated form of what actually exists today.

That wouldn’t be necessarily bad if the movie was funny, but it fails at producing laughs. The writing is far from subtle, in fact, it’s blatant what’s being satirized. As a result, the humor doesn’t feel at all clever, everything is just so obvious that it’s hard to laugh when the punchline is right there.

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The only way “Don’t Look Up” probably could’ve gotten away with having less than subtle humor is pushing the comedy to absurd levels. The movie doesn’t really do this either.

While everything portrayed is in the film is clearly exaggerated, it doesn’t push boundaries into ludicrous levels, either. This can be done successfully, even with a political film, as 2019’s “Jojo Rabbit” showed. That’s not the case here.

So, the comedic writing is left in this awkward position, trying to have it both ways, and succeeding at nothing. As a result, the film fails at making one laugh, unless a viewer thinks Meryl Streep being a woman version of former President Donald trump for over two hours is hilarious.

Unfortunately, there’s not much for the movie to fall back on either. The dramatic elements in the movie are lazy. For example, Randall starts an affair with a news anchor that doesn’t really add much other than padding the runtime.

Another example is Kate starting a relationship with Timothee Chalamet’s character in the third act. It’s a shame because Chalamet is actually pretty good in the role, but he is largely underutilized.

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The rest of the cast is hit or miss. Lawrence is solid as a cynical character, but DiCaprio feels rather miscast as the socially anxious professor. Streep, meanwhile, gives a dreadful performance, providing a portrayal more suited for a short sketch than a full length feature.

Mark Rylance also shows up in the film as an awkward billionaire tech mogul. First of all, we get it McKay. Second, Rylance isn’t even that funny, or memorable in the role. Even Taika Waititi’s performance as a wealthy tech company owner in “Free Guy” was more effective.

The movie also included a character who works at NASA. He was was kind of a main character, but not really. Played by Rob Morgan, the character gets a healthy amount of screentime, but not much too do, making him somewhat a third wheel.

With characters like Morgan’s, and the subplot with Chalamet, there’s a sense that McKay and co-writer David Sirota had such a laser focus on the main issue of the government’s response to the comet, that other portions feel underwritten. As a result, it’s difficult to remain engaged.

Despite boasting a stellar cast and McKay having shown he’s a capable filmmaker, “Don’t Look Up” is a mess. Having the talent in front of the camera makes this watchable, and McKay’s snappy style can entertain, but the movie remains a miss.  1.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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