What's missing from Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, first-time director Lorene Scafaria's Steve Carell vehicle misfire, is the one element any apocalypse narrative suffocates without — urgency. Scafaria, screenwriter of the chipper, inexplicably lauded Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, has created an end-times comedy that's by turns bizarrely affectless and prattlingly manic, much like its dual protagonists, insurance salesman Dodge Petersen (Carell at his most downcast) and his perky neighbor Penny (a seriously unwound Keira Knightley), who light out together — along with a charming terrier — days before an asteroid is set to destroy the Earth. Their goals: to track down his first love and a flight to the United Kingdom, so Penny can spend doomsday with the folks.
The reckonings and realizations fly once Seeking a Friend for the End of the World hits the road, and for all the absurdity of these characters achieving perfectly articulated peace with their past demons as the world ends (I'm guessing pants-shitting panic would be more the norm), it's a relief after the excruciatingly unfunny first act, in which Scafaria (who also wrote the film) floats the notion that sticking to routine in the presence of overwhelming chaos is a way of giving life meaning. That's fair, but she conveys this with so little irony or insight that Dodge's workmates, domestic servant and a T.G.I. Friday's–esque waitstaff come off more as morons than heroes. Seeking a Friend achieves the colorless tedium of a safe, dozy dream of catastrophe instead of anything like the real deal.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD | Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria | Focus Features | Citywide