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July 21, 2012 | 11:05 a.m. CST
A classified ad searching for a time traveling partner leads to a heartfelt journey between two outsiders, but not necessarily through any space-time continuums. This funny and inspiring story is so engaging, whether the time traveling actually occurs doesn’t really matter. The interaction and growth between the characters does.
Safety Not Guaranteed begins by introducing Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a sarcastic loner and lowly intern at a Seattle magazine. During a meeting, self-centered and crass-talking Jeff (Jake Johnson) pitches the idea of finding the man behind an ad in want of a time traveling companion. The ad reads, “Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.” Jeff flippantly selects Darius and nerdy, socially awkward Arnau (Karan Soni) for his team.
The group goes to Ocean View, Wash., where they find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), an eccentric and paranoid thirty-something grocery store clerk. It’s quickly understood after Jeff tries and fails to apply for the position that Kenneth takes time traveling seriously. Kenneth’s seriousness and his avoidance of any clichés or specific details of time travel help make this movie work so well. Although Jeff ditches the story to do what he really came to do — find and hook up with a high school girlfriend he never forgot about — Darius decides to take the lead on the project.
The witty and challenging back and forth between Darius and Kenneth the first time she poses as an interested candidate brings a lot of laughs, one of many laugh-out-loud scenes in the film. The chemistry grows quickly between them; the two outsiders find out they have more in common than they think.
The plot continuously moves forward with never a slow or dull moment. Darius and Kenneth learn to trust each other, and Jeff goes through some unintended self-discovery. Even Arnau has his own unforgettable experience. What starts as an intriguing newspaper ad turns into an unexpected but touching story for all four characters.