If you could travel back in time, where would you go? Who would you see? What would you change? And if you told people you could do it – would anyone believe you?
In 1997, an unusual posting appeared in the classified ads section of Backwoods Home Magazine. The clipping read, “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”
The bizarre call for time-travel companionship has been somewhat of an Internet obsession for the last 15 years as web surfers poked fun at the ad’s author with composite sketches (often sporting mullets) and fantastical guesses at his motives. Now, the new movie “Safety Not Guaranteed” brings this anonymous man to life, but one of the film’s stars already had an idea of what he would be like.
“Crazy, back country, big gun, paranoid,” said actor Jake Johnson, who is best known as Nick Miller on the hit Fox series “New Girl.” “[Writer] Derek Connolly created a character who is pretty special in that – imagine that character, but before he was old and crazy. So, right at the point in his life where he’s still young and still has it together – but in 30 years he’s gonna be that crazy old guy in the woods who’s really paranoid.”
“Safety Not Guaranteed” follows a Seattle magazine reporter named Jeff (Johnson) and his two interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), as they track down the classified ad author, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), in hopes of exploiting his eccentricity. However, Jeff quickly abandons his interns in search of an old high school flame and leaves Darius deeply entrenched as an ally in Kenneth’s probably-crazy scheme. At the same time, all of these characters explore their less-than-perfect pasts and wonder what, if anything, they can do to change their futures.
What would Johnson do differently if he could go back in time?
“It’s a tough question because it goes with the whole thing – if you change one thing, everything changes,” he told me, laughing at a reference to “The Butterfly Effect.” “If I could, I’d be nicer to people when I was mean. That kind of thing.”
For the characters of Darius and Kenneth, a chance to change the past would yield much deeper, personal results. Jeff’s exploration of the past, however, is a little more self-serving. And with any luck, the rough-edged journalist can score a second night with the one who got away.
“Jeff’s a d***. Jeff’s not a great person,” Johnson said, adding that the character is not lovable like the damaged goof “New Girl” fans have come to love. “What I like about the Jeff character is he’s a d***, but he’s got a good heart. He’s a d*** because he’s cynical, and in this movie he’s forced to deal with how he got to be like this. And that’s a fun character to play.”
For all its introspection and heartwarming moments, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is surprisingly funny with sharp writing that breathes life into quirky performances from the entire cast, particularly Plaza, who shows impressive range beyond her sarcastic, eye-rolling April on “Parks and Recreation.” Duplass, who has gained critical indie acclaim for his performances in films such as “Your Sister’s Sister,” ably gives Kenneth – this Internet legend – three dimensions with his charming, yet disturbed portrayal.
“It’s not a mean movie, it’s not cynical. It’s not too heavy,” Johnston explained. “You’re not gonna walk out of there and be like, let’s get a cup of coffee and discuss the darkness of humanity. It’s a fun movie. It’s funny and it’s fun and it’s uplifting. It’s about dreamers.”
“Safety Not Guaranteed” is in theaters now. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.