As anyone can tell you, comedies are a tough sell, especially when broaching such subject matter as the end of mankind. Some wouldn’t dare find anything close to that a laughing matter, but when it’s used merely as a backdrop for broader, more general comedy, it certainly can be a nice filter. That’s exactly what writer/director Todd Berger set out to do with IT’S A DISASTER: he combined an end-of-the-world scenario and mashed it up with a twentysomething and thirtysomethings coming-of-age comedy (THE BIG CHILL meets PERFECT SENSE. On many counts, it just doesn’t quite work; yet, there’s something wonderfully sublime about seeing a bunch of self-centered shallow suburbanites get their comeuppance … even if that comeuppance is a nerve-gas Apocalypse.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Emma (played by the comely Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller) Mandrake throw only the best Sunday brunches. Yet this week’s brunch is going to be a disaster. Not only are they in the midst of their own full-blown marital crisis, but also some terrorists are about to detonate a series of nerve gas canisters across the United States, bringing about an end to life as we know it. Will the quiche be too hot? Will everyone like the wine? Will they have to down it all before the end comes? Oh, what’s a couple of yuppies to do!
Surprisingly, I thought IT’S A DISASTER missed more than a few of its marks. That isn’t to say that it’s unfunny in any way, because that would be inaccurate. It’s just that, given the premise and the cast – including David Cross, Julia Stiles, America Ferrara, and more – I think I expected a bit more. Many moments felt like they should’ve been played a bit bigger – a big more obtuse – and, instead, they’re scaled back almost to the point that one wonders if everyone showed up knowing their lines. Or was this a case of dialogue being manufactured on the set, and the players were only provided with the talking points? It’s hard to say, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t underscore a bit of disappointment.
There are some truly brilliant pieces in here. Berger himself dons a hazmat suit and shows up uninvited to the dinner party as snooping neighbor, Hal; he’s the one that breaks the news about the attacks. Rachel Boston and Kevin M. Brennan are splendid as Lexi and Buck Kivel (respectively), a husband-and-wife team so completely comfortable with their own generous sexuality they want to share it with anyone they can (which almost includes David Cross’s Glen in a wacky development). And the occasional still shot of the dead latecomers to the party on the front steps – along with an assortment of dead crows – is increasingly funny as it’s played so wondrously deadpan. I can’t help but wonder if IT’S A DISASTER started out as a stage play – all of the action takes place inside the house, though spread out across several rooms – but I’ve no doubt thinking that this is exactly the kind of film that when it gets remade will probably find a much bigger and much more appreciative audience.
It’s definitely worth a view. Maybe not an owner. But definitely worth a view.
IT’S A DISASTER is produced by Vacationeer Productions, Attainment Media Group, ARM Entertainment (II), Gordon Bijelonic / Datari Turner Films, and Tip-Top Productions. DVD distribution is being handled through Oscilloscope Laboratories. As for the technical specifications, it all looks and sounds very solid, though there were a few instances when recording levels seemed a bit off. Fans will be surprised to find a wealth of special features, including a commentary track and even a Comic-Con Panel appearance. It’s a nice assortment for a nice middle-of-the-road comedy.
RECOMMENDED. It’s more benign comedy than it is outright farce, and, as a consequence, IT’S A DISASTER misses some of the true laughs because so much of it is underplayed. Still, there’s an awful lot of talent in there, so much so that I would’ve expected better. This may’ve been the case of a writer/director being too close to the material to see the weaknesses in the performances; it could’ve used a few more manic highpoints – especially given the subject matter – and a little less routine shtick of twentysomethings trying to figure out who they are. It’s the apocalypse, after all? Laugh it up, people!