Susan Granger's review of 'Safety Not Guaranteed'
"WANTED: Someone 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."
That's the classified ad that inspires Jeff (Jake Johnson), a cynical Seattle Magazine staff writer to delve into the story behind it, taking along two interns: awkwardly insecure, disaffected Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and shy, studious Arnau (Karan Soni), a biology major who is hoping to diversify his resume.
As soon as they arrive on assignment in the Washington beachside community, cocky Jeff takes off to find an old high-school flame (Jenica Bergere), leaving Darius and Arnau to track down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), an eccentric, suspiciously elusive grocery clerk. Posing as a prospective traveling partner, willing to undergo rigorous training, imaginative Darius befriends Kenneth, a paranoid loner who not only believes that he can time-travel but is also convinced he's being followed by secret agents. Which, in fact, he is.
Novice screenwriter Derek Connolly found this curious ad from the survivalist magazine "Backwoods Home" back in the 1990s and devised the poignant characters, along with an off-beat, romantic story line, teaming up with first-time director Colin Trevorrow, his N.Y.U. Film School classmate and co-intern on TV's "Saturday Night Live." Together, they found the ad's real author in the mountains of Oregon and gained his trust before embarking on this charming comedic quest.
As the earnestly beguiling antihero protagonist, Mark Duplass ("The Puffy Chair," "Darling Companion," "Your Sister's Sister") has a sly, disarming instinct for timing, deftly playing off Jake Johnson ("No Strings Attached"), Aubrey Plaza (NBC's comedy series "Parks and Recreation") and New Dehli native Karan Soni (Fox TV's" Touch"). The reality-based ensemble is greatly enhanced by the original soundtrack by Guster band member Ryan Miller, particularly when Duplass plays the zither and sings an original song.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Safety Not Guaranteed" is an uplifting 7, a fun-filled, feel-good journey.