‘Don’t Look Up’ Review: Adam McKay Misses the Mark Yet Again

Proof that just because you have an Oscar to your name and an A-List cast to work with, doesn’t mean you’re capable of making a genuine good film.

“Don’t Look Up” is the third “serious” film from director Adam McKay, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two scientists who discover a comet headed towards earth, and set out to warn humanity. The ensemble cast also stars Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep.

Adam McKay used to be known as the guy who made silly comedies with Will Ferrell, but has since shifted into holding a mirror to society with the likes of “The Big Short” and “Vice.” “Don’t Look Up” is his first non-bibliography story (though the tagline says it is “based on truly possible events”) and while it is a tad less condescending than his previous two outings, his aimless narrative and smug delivery persist.

I really did not like “The Big Short” and “Vice,” mostly because the seizure-inducing editing bug the hell out of me and McKay’s screenplays insist on talking down to the audience (both are at least well-acted, with Christian Bale getting well-deserved Oscar nominations both times). “Don’t Look Up” leans much more into the comedic elements than those two films, which on paper is a good thing since it’s McKay’s roots and DiCaprio has shown he is a capable physical comedian. All of the cast seems to be having a good time, especially Meryl Streep as a Trump-esque President and Mark Rylance as a stuttering billionaire businessman. Jonah Hill is the only one who seems to have misunderstood his assignment, as most of his lines are just improv and riffing, and it comes off like he belongs in an entirely different film.

Much like his last two films, the film editing is pretty bad here. Characters’ dialogue is delivered while their mouths are sealed shut, and attempts to cut away mid-sentence for comedic effect don’t land.

McKay isn’t trying to be subtle with his messages: the media loves celebrity breakups more than actual news, the government is corrupt, certain members of specific political parties are easily fooled, and humankind can’t get out of its own way (I’m sure parallels could be drawn for the COVID pandemic, but if that was McKay’s goal the logic contradicts itself). Satire doesn’t need to be sharp, but if that’s the case it better at least be funny. Outside Mark Rylance’s socially awkward, overtly-white-tooth’d tech billionaire there aren’t many laughs to be had, and all too often it just plays like McKay speaking down to the audience and his fellow celebs congratulating themselves. 

“Don’t Look Up” isn’t a bad film, but it’s just a lot of nothing. It isn’t saying anything none of us don’t already know or regularly encounter, and outside the nerve-inducing first and final 20 minutes there is too much filler. Being a Netflix film, maybe check this out if the cast or McKay’s work appeal to you, but otherwise the casual viewer doesn’t need to look this title up.

Critics Rating: 5/10


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