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'Don't Look Up' is an offense to good satire

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DON'T LOOK UP
NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX
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DON'T LOOK UP (L to R) JENNIFER LAWRENCE as KATE DIBIASKY, LEONARDO DICAPRIO as DR. RANDALL MINDY. Cr. NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2021

I used to watch that comedy reality show Last Comic Standing, and I remember one guy who gave a performance that he was just so sure was absolutely hilarious—he gesticulated and shouted through it, even physically dropping the mic on his final punchline. I don’t know if the tepid applause that followed clued him in to the fact that he was not nearly as impressive as he thought he was, but I doubt it.

I thought of him while I watched Adam McKay’s stupefyingly lazy satire Don’t Look Up, a movie that’s so confident it’s nailing its routine that you can almost see it strutting around on the stage. That confidence is, let’s say, misguided.

The film is certainly star-studded, as astronomers Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence discover a comet that’s headed straight toward Earth, with a certain chance of a direct hit, and they take that information to the White House and Trumpy president Meryl Streep. The scientists are blown off, as they essentially are again by TV hosts Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett, who would prefer they keep the news light and maybe talk a bit more about Ariana Grande. Eventually, though, President Streep comes up with a plan to nuke the comet, to much fanfare.

There’s more—it’s almost two-and-a-half hours long, after all—and most of it heads in the direction of these two scientists being the only ones who actually understand the danger, a barely veiled stand-in for climate change. But climate change is such a drastic, existential threat that it deserves a lot more than the hackiest hack jokes you can imagine. Yelling “Look at all the dumb-dumbs” cannot be the basis for successful satire. If The Onion printed this story you’d wonder why they were employing 15-year-olds to write their articles now. My apologies to 15-year-olds.

But why am I the one apologizing? Don’t Look Up seems to assume that if its viewers are disturbed by anti-science culture and lack of attention to climate change, we’ll also be on board with the movie’s complete lack of effort. Those two things are not equally offensive… but they are both offensive.

Don’t Look Up is on Netflix December 24th

Fletcher Powell's biggest claim to fame is that he owns a copy of every Bo Jackson baseball card ever made. He's done other things, too, like work in the stock market, but that wasn't so fun. So now he's KMUW’s Production Manager and host of All Things Considered, as well as KMUW's movie reviewer and producer/co-host of the podcast You're Saying It Wrong.