As the movie opens, our hero, Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell), is listening to a radio broadcast announcing that the final attempts to destroy an earth-ending asteroid have failed. The planet has a few weeks to live. His wife (played by real-life wife Nancy Carell), flees, leaving him to face the apocalypse alone. He deals with the news in the most Steve Carell-ian way possible; mainly to mope around and look at things quizzically and speak in a monotone that suggests passion once filled his lungs where now resides pure emptiness. Truthfully, it's hard to differentiate the Steve Carell from the first twenty minutes of "Crazy Stupid Love" from the Steve Carell here, and while there are some occasional good jokes (a coworker at Carell's nondescript insurance agency says, "Anyone want to be CFO?"), this section of the movie is tough to get through – it never seems edgy enough or all that interesting.
The rest of the movie plays as a kind of picaresque, pre-apocalyptic road movie, with Carrel and Knightley getting into a series of comic misadventures. Some of these episodes are howlingly funny, like when they visit a TGI Friday's-style restaurant that soon devolves into some weird orgy (kudos to T.J. Miller and Gillian Jacobs for absolutely killing it), others are more morose and melancholic (like when they're picked up by a suicidal trucker played by William Petersen) and almost all, as you can tell, are embroidered with a cameo of some weight (we're not going to ruin any more here). Throughout these vignettes, we get the gradual sense of society's decay, although sometimes the world seems to be doing just fine, with people mowing their lawns and taking out the trash. Some of these decisions must surely have been budgetary, but it still feels like a missed opportunity that the situation never becomes so hectic that you actually fear for the characters' lives. There are bumps along the road movie road, but nothing more, nothing less.
But the biggest crime is how easily, as the film glides along, it slips into conventional romantic comedy plot mechanics. It's a movie whose situation already frees it from the required signposts of most romantic comedies. After all, this is a story whose only conclusion (if it doesn't totally wimp out), is the end of life on earth. That buys you a certain amount of leniency. Except that "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" doesn't utilize that leniency, and the boring tropes start to pile on top of one another – misunderstandings, heroically selfless acts, and a last minute reprieve. (More annoying is the fact that all the road movie work is undone, with characters showing up at previous locations as if no time would have to pass for them to return. Maybe, like in "The Muppets," the characters travel by map.) Carell (age: 49) and Knightley (age: 27) already make an icky couple, and the couple is made infinitely ickier by the fact that, from a narrative standpoint, there's no real reason for them to get together. The platonic nature of their relationship is (initially) what made the movie so refreshing. When they start making gooey eyes at each other and talking about finally meeting their soul mate right before it's all over, you want to give up. As well acted and beautifully shot (by David Gordon Green regular Tim Orr) and (admittedly) occasionally clever the script is, none of it is enough. Bring on the apocalypse. [C+]