When writer-director Todd Berger was developing the characters for this apocalypse-themed dramedy, in which eight attendees at a couples' brunch discover they're about to die in a biochemical disaster, he decided to base each of them on one of the eight stages of grief. It's a clever concept for an end-of-world flick. Unfortunately, once the cast of grief-inspired personalities hits the screen, it's obvious Berger's attempt at patching together a deeper thematic meaning was only feasible in theory. In practice, the characters come off as one-dimensional and strained.
David Cross (otherwise known as Tobias on Arrested Development) is unsurprisingly the best at transcending odd characterization and bad writing. Cross plays Glen, an ingenuous fourth-grade teacher and one half of a new couple. When he and his date, high-strung doctor Tracy (Julia Stiles), arrive at her friends' home for a tense midmorning feast, he quickly proves to be the savior of many a floundering joke. But, alas, Cross can't possibly rescue every half-baked non sequitur or stream of unnatural dialogue.
Within the first half-hour, Glen discovers that Tracy's friends are a grab bag of narcissists and crazies, from a sci-fi dweeb who ignores his fiancee while he bids online for Batman memorabilia, to a polyamorous couple who consummated their marriage in a T.G.I. Friday's restroom stall. And Glen is grazing only the tip of the iceberg. News that dirty bombs have been detonated in nearby downtown Los Angeles swiftly dissolves the flimsy veneer of domestic stability, and fights break out among the lovebirds.
Though a handful of scenes feel genuine—including an impromptu living-room dance party where one character pounds out an acoustic version of "Blister in the Sun" while the rest of the ragtag crew sways about, drunk on whiskey, wine and sorrow—too many similarly quirky moments fall flat. Berger takes a stab at exploring the emotional purging and healing the characters experience as they await their eventual demise, but neither the plot nor the characters possess the conviction to deliver even basic warm and fuzzy moments. As the couples slog through their final hours, it feels as though the apocalypse can't come soon enough.
Critic's Grade: C
SEE IT: It's a Disaster is rated R. It opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre.