Adam McKay’s new film “Don’t Look Up”, which was released on Netflix on Christmas Eve after being released at theaters early in this month, attempts to laugh about how absurd and incorrigible we can be in front of one big global disaster, but it comes to resort to a series of cheap and superficial laughs coupled with irritating smugness. Considering the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic and how many governments including the US government were sloppy and incompetent in their first response to that, the movie could be a timely social/political black comedy for our increasingly disturbing current era, but I am sad to report here that it merely ridicules on our reality instead of reaching to something as unthinkable as Stanley Kubrick’s great comedy film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964).
At the beginning, we are introduced to Professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his graduate student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), who happens to discover a new comet when she is doing her routine work at an observatory associated with Michigan State University. She and others including Dr. Mindy are certainly excited about this unexpected discovery at first, but there soon comes a very grim moment as they embark on calculating the trajectory and route of this comet. It unfortunately turns out that this comet will definitely clash with the Earth after several months, and, considering the immense size of the comet, the eventual clash will surely lead to the end of not only the entire human civilization but also all other life forms on the planet.
Quite alarmed by this terrible discovery, Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky promptly contact with the Planetary Defense Coordination Office as well as NASA, but, to their frustration and exasperation, they do not get much response from either of these two important government organizations. While Dr. Teddy Oglethrope (Rob Morgan) is certainly willing to spread this very important news as much as he can, there are not many things he can do besides that, and the current head of NASA is an utterly incompetent one who has simply occupied the position just because of being a close associate of the current US President.
Anyway, Dr. Mindy, Dr. Oglethrope, and Dibiasky finally manage to deliver the news to President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), but President Orlean, which is clearly a mix between Sarah Palin and Donald J. Trump, is not so alarmed mainly because she has been occupied with handling her current big scandal as quickly as possible before the mid-term election. She simply wants to put aside the news for a while, and Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky become much more frustrated than before as instructed not to disclose anything about the comet in the meantime.
And that is just the beginning of more absurdities they are going to face along with Dr. Oglethrope. As suggested by Dr. Olgethrope, Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky go to some respectable newspaper which is apparently a fictional version of the New York Times, and they are advised to appear in some popular TV evening news show, but they only come to embarrass themselves when they appear on that TV evening news show. No matter how much they try, nobody seems to discern and realize how grim and serious their news really is, and, not so surprisingly, their embarrassing public moment is spread widely in the world of social media applications for more ridicule and entertainment.
When it looks like everyone including President Orlean finally becomes serious about stopping the comet from clashing with the Earth by any means necessary, things soon go wrong again thanks to the last-minute intervention of a famous (and popular) tech billionaire named Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), who is apparently based on Tim Cook and Elon Musk. While quite flabbergasted by this, Dr. Mindy tries his best as before, but he only becomes more helpless than before just like Dibiasky and Dr. Oglethrope, and he also finds himself going astray in his private life as beginning an inappropriate relationship with one of the two hosts of that TV evening news show.
McKay’s screenplay, which is based on the story written by him and his co-writer David Sirota, attempts to juggle many different story elements together for generating one big picture of absurdity and incompetence, but these numerous elements do not gel with each other much as seriously lacking focus and substance to hold our attention. In addition, many of characters in the film are more or less than broad caricatures without much human insight or depth, and McKay’s screenplay merely regards most of them with lazy contempt and shallow ridicule instead of presenting them as the recognizable cases of human errors and foibles for truly amusing and horrifying us.
The movie gathers heaps of notable performers, but they simply occupy each own spot without generating much synergy between themselves. While Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence are stuck in their thankless straight roles, Rob Morgan, Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Ariana Grande, Melanie Lynskey, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, and Jonah Hill acquit themselves mostly well, but Meryl Streep and Mark Rylance are unfortunately forced to endure what may be the worst moment in their respective distinguished acting careers.
In conclusion, “Don’t Look Up” does not succeed as well as intended, and the result is another letdown from McKay, who unexpectedly rose higher with “The Big Short” (2015) but then disappointingly fell lower with “Vice” (2018). While it is not entirely humorless, the movie still feels like a big waste of considerable talents gathered on the screen, and now I come to feel more urge to revisit “Dr. Strangelove”. While that great comedy film really shocked me with its absurdly inevitable conclusion when I watched it for the first time in 1996, “Don’t Look Up” did not surprise or shock me at all with its quite predictable arrival point, so I recommend you to skip it and then watch “Dr. Strangelove” instead.