‘Safety’ strange and quirky

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:01 PM ET

Aubrey Plaza (Parks And Recreation, Funny People) is the embodiment of that disaffected young woman whose mom implores, "Sweetie, you have such a beautiful face. You should smile more."

She shares this professional diffidence with fellow non-smilers like Kat Dennings and Selma Blair.

Well, guess what, mom? You were right.

There are two emotionally resonant elements in the fanciful, seriocomic Safety Not Guaranteed. One is "mumblecore" filmmaker-turned-actor Mark Duplass's performance as an emotionally-damaged smalltown crackpot who may be a legit genius.

The other is Plaza herself, ready for her close-up, and gradually morphing from her trademark sullen-girl to lit-up and maybe even in love. That look, when it bursts through, is like a butterfly breaking through a frowny chrysalis.

Safety Not Guaranteed begins with an improbable premise. To wit: a Seattle magazine journalist is intrigued by an classified ad that reads, "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."

And that's not even the improbable part. That would be when the writer, Jeff (Jake Johnson) convinces his editor not only to give him several days out of town to work the story, but to free up two interns for same, Darius (Plaza), a cynical, underemployed college graduate, and Arnau (Karan Soni), an overachieving South Asian student.

It turns out Jeff has an ulterior motive for visiting the town of Ocean View, a longlost love who may not match his memory-based fantasy. Thus distracted, he leaves virtually all the legwork to Darius and Arnau, particularly the former, who strikes up a misfit-to-misfit relationship with the seemingly delusional Kenneth (Duplass), a retail employee with an impressive-looking, jury-rigged time machine.

A crackpot he may be, but Duplass's Kenneth has a definite gleam in his eye. And when suspicious-looking agents turn out to be following him, it begins to look as if there may be another kind of crazy all together.

The real charm of Safety Not Guaranteed is the gradual, and completely eccentric flirting dance between Darius and Kenneth, him teaching her how to shoot and otherwise function as a survivalist. It's such a left-field relationship, the sort-of-shock ending seems utterly perfect.

The word "quirky" is almost like a warning sign these days. Safety Not Guaranteed is an exception, a strange, light-hearted bit of quasi-sci-fi, with no small amount of heart.


Videos

Photos