A film review by Craig J. Koban January 7, 2022


2021, R, 138 mins.

Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky  /  Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy  /  Meryl Streep as President Janie Orlean  /  Cate Blanchett as Brie Evantee  /   Rob Morgan as Dr. Clayton 'Teddy' Oglethorpe  /  Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean  /  Mark Rylance as Sir Peter Isherwell Tyler Perry as Jack Bremmer  /  Timothée Chalamet as Quentin  /  Ron Perlman as Colonel Ben Drask  /  Ariana Grande as Riley Bina  /  Kid Cudi as DJ Chello  /  Melanie Lynskey as June  /  Himesh Patel as Phillip

Written and directed by Adam McKay


DON'T LOOK UP contains moments of ultra macabre high hilarity as a scathing (and frequently on point and unnerving) socio-political satire about the absolute worst aspects of science denial culture.  It's just a bloody shame that it's way too self-indulgently longwinded, unwieldy, and undisciplined for its own good. 

The title of this film is derived from its core premise:  The world's scientists have deduced that a comet several kilometers wide will strike the Earth with nearly 100 per cent certainty, leading to all life being destroyed...buuuuuuut many people refuse to accept such a fact...even when looking right up in the skies above and seeing Armageddon literally streaking down upon them.  These suckers either (a) don't believe the comet is real or (b) don't believe anything the scientists believe or (c) believe that the comet is a conspiratorial form of mass control.   

Gee, doesn't this all sound awfully familiar these last few pandemic laden years? 

DON'T LOOK UP is the latest from writer/director Adam McKay, whose career alone would make for an enthralling documentary all on its own.  After striking critical mass with iconic comedies like ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY and TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY, McKay went on to become an overnight Oscar darling with his absurd satirical take on the 2008 financial crisis in THE BIG SHORT and followed that up with the equally compelling take on then Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney in VICE.  Now, the Academy Award winning screenwriter is setting his satiric crosshairs on the disaster film genre and how people and politicians are so easily and corruptibly duped into failing to follow the scientific advice of an end of the world scenario.  Sporting a relative who's who of high marquee Hollywood elite cast members and McKay's trademark in-your-face editorial style, DON'T LOOK UP should have worked marvelously, but instead comes off as lacking a truly shrewd cutting edge.  When it boils right down to it, McKay's targets here are of the fish in a barrel variety and his film built around them really has nothing significant to add to the discourse that we already haven't seen before in other finer tuned satires. 

The setup for DON'T LOOK UP is the stuff of obligatory disaster porn genre films.  Two respected university astronomers, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his doctoral student in Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) have just discovered a gargantuan comet in the cosmos that - gasp! - is on a collision course with our planet.  Because the comet is nearly 10km in diameter, it's easily dubbed a global killer (just like the one in ARMAGEDDON).  No matter where one lives, it simply doesn't matter.  This comet will kill everyone and everything once it impacts.  Knowing that they have just months to prepare and mount a plan of attack to deal with it, Randall and Kate immediately bring their findings to higher authorities, like Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Ron Morgan), who's the head of Planetary Defense.  Realizing that they need to bring this nightmarish news higher up the command chain, Randall, Kate and Teddy know that U.S. President Orlean (Maryl Streep) must be informed immediately.  There's a problem, though: Both her and her chief of staff (her son, played by Jonah Hill) think that the end of all life as we know it is not as important as a very public issue that she's having with her Supreme Court nominee over texted images of private parts of the body that should never been shared in such a way.  Also, those pesky midterm elections are on the horizon, and who the hell wants such a doom and gloom distraction such as a killer comet getting in the way?



Predictably frantic with worry, the trio of scientists plead their case, even leading to the completely flabbergasted Randall telling the president, in no uncertain terms, that "There's a 100 per cent certainty of impact," to which the dimwitted Commander in Chief incredulously retorts, "Don't say 100 per cent...let's call it 70 per cent and move on."  With the shock of knowing that convincing anyone in the White House of the planet's doom is going to be next to impossible, Randall and Kate decide to plead their case to the people by appearing on tabloidy news talk shows, but this backfires when a frantic minded Kate becomes a meme for perpetually alarmed women and Randall gets spin doctored and groomed by the hosts as "the sexiest astronomer alive."  Concurrent to all of this is a creepy tech billionaire, Sir Peter Isherwell (played in an equally creepy performance by Mark Rylance), who wishes to - ahem! - monetize the comet for his own gain, seeing as it contains hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of rare minerals.  Lost on him and other political leaders is that exploiting those minerals for financial gain will be fruitless...if every soul on earth is dead. 

I don't even think that I've truly scratched the surface as far as the menagerie of characters that populate this farce, all of whom seem hopelessly linked together - whether they want to or not - in a sustained effort to egregiously downplay the severity of this comet.  The aforementioned talk show hosts - played by a crackerjack Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry - are odious ratings-driven puff journalists that seem more concerned about pop star romance gossip than they are about the world being utterly decimated in the blink of an eye.  Worse yet is that the female anchor develops a massive crush on poor Dr. Mindy, and he becomes hopelessly entangled in a sexual fling with this hedonistic vixen, despite his obsessive yearning for people to hear him out about his dire warnings.  As Randall becomes a Dr. Oz-like celebrity on the show, Kate is depressingly pushed to the sidelines and has her reputation thrown into the mud.  Parts of this subplot are a rather cruel indictment of infotainment news and how bad news is bad for ratings, even if said bad news concerns the eradication of the human race.  Tied into this story thread is the mind blowingly idiotic president, who seems willing to label the threat of the comet as fake news and seems more paranoid with public opinion poll numbers regarding allegations flowing in about her rather toxic choice for a position in high authority.  Even when the comet is clearly visible in the sky, Orlean goes on the imbecilic offensive and starts the "Don't Look Up" movement.  And - wouldn't ya know it - a whole hell of a lot of 'Murica enthusiastically joins in.  Meanwhile, DiCaprio's increasingly nervous (bordering on mad) scientist is forced to scream at TV viewers "We're all going to die!"  This still doesn't seem to make any sizeable impact. 

There are some splendidly inspired moments of amusement sprinkled in throughout DON'T LOOK UP, with a lion's share of the laughs occurring with Randall and Kate becoming more and more unhinged at the daily dumbing down of the worst aspects of American society.  Just about every person or institution that they come in contact with are of the deer in the headlights variety that just can't comprehend - or accept - what's coming for humanity, even with incontrovertible proof for all to see.  DON'T LOOK UP is accurate when it comes to its targets, but I think one the largest issues with McKay's approach to the material is that it's all a bit too aggressively obvious, not to mention that he wants to perhaps focus on too many targets at the same time by grouping them all together.  He's satirizing (looks at notes) ineffectual political leaders, social media bottom feeders, tabloid news culture, tech billionaires who think they can solve the world's problems with their wealth, celebrity obsession, climate and pandemic deniers, science deniers, and so on and so on...and so on.  The central message of DON'T LOOK UP is that people are too stupid to band together to survive worst case scenarios.  They can't see the trees because the forest is in the way.  It's not the message that's the problem, here, but rather that it's a message we already know, but this film thinks that it's somehow revelatory about it. 

More often than not, there's an off-putting smugness to DON'T LOOK UP: McKay thinks his work is a more cunning and smart satire than it actually is, not to mention that it sometimes pales in comparison to many other doomsday satires out there, like the obvious  elephant in the room in DR. STRANGELOVE or the more recent and terribly underrated SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (which bares a startling resemblance to this film in terms of core concept) or, hell, even Mike Judge's completely overlooked IDIOCRACY, which definitely was a better incendiary lambasting of the devolution of America's collective intelligence.  Then there are other times when McKay seems to lose control of his film overall, especially for the way it seesaws from one new character/plot development to the next, which has the negative side effect of rendering some characters poorly underwritten (look at an eleventh hour appearance by Timothee Chalamet as a laid back skateboarder bro that locks eyes on Kate, for example, or even how Jonah Hill's bumbling Chief of Staff is just rendered as an obnoxious SNL caricature and not much more).  The film also tries to mishmash its more over the top comedic extremes with some moments of sincerity, but somehow it just doesn't seem to coalesce the way it should.  Even McKay's staccato editorial style seems more distractingly gimmicky as opposed to complimenting the inherent madness of the story. 

Comedies also have no business being as long as DON'T LOOK UP, which clocks in at a rather punishing 138 minutes and eventually begins to neuter the comedic edge and momentum of the entire piece, especially in the latter sections that seem to be spinning their wheels more than I would have liked.  Man, this cast, though!  Pretty damn extraordinary.  Most of them bring their A-game with their respective characters, even when the underlining material is of a lower qualitative grade (I appreciated how DiCaprio in particular has a field day playing an uncoordinated and constantly fidgety science dweeb).  So, how could a film like this disappoint, then, especially one so star studded and with a proven comedic vet behind the camera?  As DON'T LOOK UP ended I frankly struggled to find an answer.  The nincompoops are ruining the world messaging here is ripe for hilarious satire, but McKay's underlining film is simply too scattershot and unfunny as a comedy on top of not being brainy or nervy enough as a finger pointing satire to leave a memorable mark. 

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