Review by Sean Boelman
The career of Adam McKay has gone through two distinct phases: one making goofy comedies with his comedic partner Will Ferrell, and the other making tongue-in-cheek political satires. His newest film, Don’t Look Up, is perhaps his angriest yet, although in its lampooning of the government’s exuberance, it falls victim to the same excess itself.
The movie follows an astronomy professor and his student who discover a comet hurtling towards the Earth, but find themselves met with resistance and ignorance when they try to alert the government and the public. And while the film is an apocalyptic sci-fi comedy, there are a lot of parallels here to other things going on in the real world right now.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is that it is excessively bloated. Although the laughs come pretty steadily, the film is still nearly two and a half hours long, and it really fails to justify that runtime. The movie gets its political point across pretty quickly, and so the middle section that basically just hammers in the stupidity of the American government is a bit much.
As is the case with The Big Short and Vice, there is definitely some very sharp commentary to be found here, but his older-school lowbrow gags are more present here than they were in his previous two outings. That’s not to say it isn’t funny — it’s just that this film aims for much more low-hanging fruit compared to the other two satires he has made.
The movie also really banks on its eclectic cast of characters, and it is a hit-or-miss in that regard. For every caricature of a real-life person, like Mark Rylance’s Steve Jobs stand-in or Meryl Streep’s gender-swapped MAGA Republican, there’s a character like Timothée Chalamet’s skater-turned-amateur-philosopher that feels underdeveloped.
Still, the cast that was assembled for the film is exceptional. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a performance that is very different from what he has been giving in recent years, restrained but still very funny. And the supporting cast is filled with great turns from Jonah Hill, Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, and more.
The movie does share the same frustratingly stylized approach as Vice, albeit on a bigger scale. The use of freeze frames and incorporation of stock footage as a motif is still here, and while it worked to an extent in the other film, it feels overwrought here. The only thing that does stand out about the execution is a comedy song by Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi, which definitely gets a laugh.
Don’t Look Up is enjoyable enough for what it is, but one can’t help but feel like Adam McKay’s worst tendencies are amplifying as he keeps getting bigger and bigger. The Big Short was one of the sharpest movies of the last decade, and in trying to outdo himself, he misses what made it so special in the first place.
Don’t Look Up streams on Netflix beginning December 24.