It’s a disaster

Eight self-absorbed thirty-something Los Angelenos gather at that yuppie-est of conventions: the Sunday couples brunch, held at the lavish home of the brittle, bickering married pair Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller). The guests are uptight medic Tracy (Julia Stiles), who’s on her third date with prudish schoolteacher Glen (David Cross); tattooed hedonist Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) and his bird-brained, equally unfettered wife Lexi (Rachel Boston); Hedy, a high school-science teacher with self-image issues (America Ferrera); and Shane (Jeff Grace), Hedy’s fiancee of six years, who’s as childish as his cherubic face belies.

Director/writer Todd Berger makes it clear very quickly that we’re not supposed to like these characters all that much–they are alternately whiny, acerbic, technology-obsessed and New Agey in self-congratulatory ways (vegan diets, open relationships, yoga). It’s not that obnoxious upper middle class, college-educated Californians are no longer a ripe subject for satire. But the patter here is neither witty nor energetic enough to compensate for the deliberately claustrophobic setting (the various rooms of the mansion) and the slack pacing.

After a neighbor (Berger) warns the couples about an oncoming nuclear armageddon sure to kill all of LA, the prevailing joke is that most of them scarcely seem to care (the ones who do resort to self-pity and pill popping). Tracy remains so pettily angry at a habitually tardy fifth couple that, when they do arrive, hacking from radiation, she doesn’t let them in (the film’s sole attempt at much-needed dark humor is the shot of their corpses on the doorstep). Lexi and Buck stay just as horny as before (in fact, they both hit on Cross). The immature Shane, who prior to the bad news was obsessed with winning a sci-fi comic book in an Ebay auction, is more interested in pondering whether the LA invaders are aliens than in comforting his panicking fiancee.

And so on.

Meanwhile, a number of dull domestic disputes pop up–it turns out that some of the couples are cheating on each other, some with consent, some not–as do some equally dull impromptu set pieces (a half-naked guitar jam, a pillow fight). The humor ranges haphazardly from dippy/random (a debate about the term “duct tape” vs. “duck tape”) to gross-out (an extended plumber’s crack gag, Ferrera peeing in front of Cross and not flushing). The most clever twist–a character we thought was the most sane in a gang of neurotic malcontents turns out to be most crazy–comes a bit late in the game to save the film, though it’s commendable for providing a dopey solution to the science vs. religion duel.

“It’s a Disaster” is not entirely without laughs, the heartiest of which occur in the opening scene, when Cross and Stiles argue about the “1812 Overture.” The main problem is that the top talents here–Cross, Stiles and Ferrera–are slumming, matching the considerably weaker efforts of either amateur actors or those that have mostly appeared in television dramas. Surely some of Cross’ old co-horts at “Mr. Show” and “Arrested Development” could have salvaged it.

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