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Review: 'Don't Look Up' a biting satire that never looks back

Posted at 2:18 PM, Dec 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-12 14:20:52-05

(WXYZ) — Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.

It may include the greatest ensemble cast of A-Listers and talent that you'll ever see: Meryl Streep. Jennifer Lawrence. Leonardo DiCaprio. Jonah Hill. Timothée Chalamet. Mark Rylance. Ariana Grande. Ron Perlman. Rob Morgan. Cate Blanchett. Tyler Perry. Melanie Lynskey. Himesh Patel. And even Kid Cudi.

It's very easy to get hypnotized by their brilliance, and swept in on the sheer star-power of those sharing the screen together. "Don't Look Up" is a brash and super-funny political satire from the mind of Adam McKay, director of "Vice" and "The Big Short" in recent years, not to mention his iconic films with his old business partner Will Ferrell, like the two "Anchorman" movies, "Step Brothers," "Talladega Nights" and "The Other Guys."

But for all it gets right, it's also a bit of a mess, with way too much jammed into its over-long run time (2 hours and 18 minutes). Still, it's maybe the best comedy of the year, and could yield a few acting nominations as well this awards season, especially for Leonardo DiCaprio, who is given a big "Network"-level monologue at one point that could land him an Oscar on the strength of that one scene alone.

Grade: B+

Dr. Mindy (DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) play two Michigan State (woohoo!) scientists who make a frightening discovery: There is a massive asteroid that is on a direct collision course with Earth, and there's a near 100% certainty that it will be an "extinction level event," meaning it will wipe out all life on the planet. They team with a government scientist (Rob Morgan) and take this catastrophic news to the current American President Orlean (Streep) and her chief-of-staff and creepy son, Jason (Jonah Hill). The President listens but doesn't quite "hear" the news, and looks instantly at its political spin potential.

Dr. Mindy and Kate are booked on a top TV show, with hosts played to perfect oblivion by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry, who bump the important news to the end of their broadcast and try to gloss over the seriousness of the situation with humor. Dr. Mindy keeps being given the advice that he needs to be coached more on his public social skills...his "straight-talk" is too wordy for the average viewer, so the news seemingly dies there.

McKay takes the story in several different directions, where a Elon Musk-like billionaire tech-weirdo (a spaced-out Mark Rylance) gets involved and diverts an attempt to blow up the asteroid...because there is money to be made in mining the asteroid instead. A gun-loving "patriot" (Ron Perlman) is wheeled out to be the face of the dangerous mission. Pop stars like Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) release sappy songs to make themselves feel better. President Orlean and her son continue to flip-flop at every political opportunity. The scientific community continues to scream into the void. Yes nobody but them seems to see the dangers right under their noses, and how damaging our own inaction will be to all humanity.

Ironically enough, McKay wrote this script (with David Sirota) as a metaphor for climate change, and how nobody seems to care about a problem before and even right up to the moment when its impact is unavoidable. However in watching the film myself, climate change wasn't my first thought...the asteroid could be seen as a metaphor for a whole slew of now-politicized dangers facing our planet, from COVID-19 to the rise of autocratic authoritarian governments all over the globe.

McKay pokes fun at politicians, television news on both sides of the political spectrum (a hilarious moment with a FOX News-like host played by Michael Chiklis, shows him reporting unrelated-to-the-asteroid news quite literally up until the last possible moment) and ultimately, all of us too. Cult-like groups form chanting "Don't Look Up!" as they continue to deny truth and science. The film is so funny because it hits so close to home.

Satires are not required to provide answers or hope, but "Don't Look Up" is ultimately so terrifying that it would have been a nice dose of balance to have done so. Instead it holds up a mirror to our society, and is so disgusted with what it sees, that it decides that there's almost nothing else to do but laugh.

The old movie cliché of "you'll laugh, you'll cry" has never applied more literally to a film than "Don't Look Up," a film that - if it were to exist beyond an extinction level event and was viewed by an alien species - would explain quite a lot to them about what actually led to our demise.

Grade: B+Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi.Run Time: 2 hours 18 minutes.Rated R.​Starring: Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Ariana Grande, Ron Perlman, Rob Morgan, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Melanie Lynskey, Himesh Patel, Kid Cudi.Co-Written and Directed by Adam McKay ("Vice," "The Big Short," "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Bergundy," "Talladega Nights," Step Brothers," "The Other Guys")."Don't Look Up" is in theaters on Friday, December 10th, 2021 and streaming on Netflix on Friday, December 24th, 2021.