IF YOU WERE a young woman with Keira Knightley's looks and charm, you might think you wouldn't date Steve Carell even if he were the last man on Earth.
But what if he were?
This is more or less the premise of "Seeking a Friend at the End of the World," a screenplay derived from the popular barfly happy-hour time-waster — what about that person? No? What if the world were ending?
"Seeking" opens as the people of Earth are informed an asteroid will destroy the world inside of a month. Dodge (Carell) is in his car (not a Dodge) with his wife, who runs screaming into the night and never comes back. It's played for laughs, and the early stretches of the movie turn the "On The Beach" scenario into a macabre comedy.
Dodge's friends (Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt) stage end-of-the-world parties, morals disappear, outlawed drugs show up, spouse-swapping is entertained, and in the midst of it all, a friend (Connie Britton) tries to fix Carell up with a lonely heart (Melanie Lynskey) desperate to find "love" before the asteroid hits.
So we settle in for an off-color, deeply black comedy about an apocalypse, somewhere on the "Shaun of the Dead" end of the spectrum.
But do not get settled in.
"Seeking" abruptly shifts gears as Dodge retreats to sulk in his apartment, alone, and it become another movie — about the middle-aged sad sack whose life is transformed by the kooky energy of a perky young lady.
Enter Knightley. She's Penny, the neighborhood free-spirit who has herself just exited a relationship. What starts as an alliance of convenience (she holes up from rioters) becomes a road-movie comedy, as they go on the road to balance life's ledgers, and to find a plane that will take Penny to her folks back in England.
Gradually, even the road-movie frivolity (there's a funny scene at a pseudo-Friendly's) starts to ebb, and "Seeking" comes face to face with the stark realities of the characters' situation. (One of the stark realities is the age difference in the leads, addressed with clumsy metaphors about old, vinyl records with deep grooves.)
So, how does a movie go from "Shaun of the Dead" to "Georgy Girl" to "Melancholia"? Well, it doesn't. The movie grinds gears as it shifts moods, and the one thing that does unify it — Carell's downbeat, muttering performance — begins to wear after awhile.
"Seeking" is nervy, I'll give it that, and surely is the only deep-impact movie to feature a conga line. But its meant-to-be-soothing final image is a creepy one, unless you're the world's biggest fan of "The Office."
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at www.philly.com/keepitreel.
REVIEW | ss1/2
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Directed by Lorene Scafaria. With Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Distributed by Focus Features.
Parents' guide: R (language, adult themes)
Running time: 101 minutes
Showing at: Area theaters