Everybody loves the End of Days these days. Big dumb disaster movies like 2012 and small indies like The Divide (about an underground bunker full of jerks who fail at survivalism but excel at destroying each other) and the upcoming apocalypse-themed Seth Rogen comedy The End of The World are all surfing the trending death-wave.
And it's pretty easy to understand why movies are having an extended daydream about doomsday. The economy seems like it's been dancing on the brink of collapse for too long, the arctic is melting and the internet has made every problem in the world immediately available to everyone with a wifi connection. It's much less easy to ignore corporate greed, human evil, sex trafficking, child soldiers and blood diamonds than it used to be. What if the tipping point's already taken place? We could be screwed right now. So show me a movie where somebody saves us at the last minute (superhero movies are a kissing cousin to this trend) or else, at the very least, give us some laughs before the lights go out.
For the first half of its running time, and no thanks to its two talented yet miscast and poorly directed leads, this movie succeeds at finding the funny-ha-ha in desperate human behavior. As the planet learns its got two weeks to live before colliding with an asteroid, Steve Carell, a hangdog insurance salesman, watches his wife run off into the night. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley, as Carell's record-collecting, baggy sweater-wearing bohemian neighbor, abandons her boyfriend (Adam Brody). All around them, society descends into chaos: riots, unsafe sex, comedic suicides and dinner parties that turn into heroin binges. In fact, as the comedy lurches from dark to darker to darkest, you begin to wonder how the film can sustain that tone and pull off the love story you suspect it also has up its sleeve. The answer: it doesn't.
The gears shift. The hilarious supporting cast (Patton Oswalt and comic TJ Miller have memorable moments that wound up in the trailer for good reason) falls by the wayside, dies or gets left in Knightley and Carell's dust as they team up and travel farther and farther down the road to what they think will be their individual salvations: he to a high school sweetheart and she to her family in England. But wouldn't you know it, even though they're nowhere close to being the last two people on Earth, they start to feel soul-matey for each other. The fact that this would never, ever happen in real life isn't the problem. The problem is that the movie isn't cool enough, nervy enough or inventive enough to make us believe it. The comedy grinds to a halt, replaced with wistful, bittersweet reckonings. The music cues turn from the obvious (Burt Bacharach's "This Guy's In Love With You") to the obviouser (The Walker Brothers "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore") and the inevitable arm-twisting and tear-wrangling kicks in. Steve and Keira's infinite playlist is tasteful and sweet, but it's all about as subtle as an asteroid hitting the Earth.