Apocalypse now and forever – on the big screen, the big bang is tolling like Big Ben. Sometimes the end is nigh, sometimes it’s the messy aftermath but, either way, doomsday has become everyday business as usual. At this familiar point, tragedy is optional, as are zombies – hell, we might as well laugh. It’s a Disaster is just the latest notch in extinction’s belt, but at least credit writer/director Todd Berger with concocting a relatively fresh take on a suddenly stale genre – Armageddon played out as drawing-room comedy, the Four Horsemen wrangled by Noel Coward.
The rooms in question belong to a house in suburban Los Angeles, where a covey of your typically narcissistic thirtysomethings gather for their monthly “couples brunch.” Nice-guy Glen (David Cross), on only his third date with the serially dating Tracy (Julia Stiles), is the newcomer to the group and thus our surrogate through the early getting-to-know-them chatter. Of course, to know them is not to love them, since dysfunction abounds – the better to mine a few yuks.
Turns out that the hosts Pete and Emma (Blaise Miller and Erinn Hayes) are on the cusp of a divorce announcement. By contrast, comic-book nerd Shane and chemistry teacher Hedy (Jeff Grace and America Ferrera) are marooned in a perpetual engagement. For their part, tattooed Buck and libidinous Lexi (Kevin M. Brennan and Rachel Boston) are happy with each other and just about anyone else – they’re keen to put the poly into amorous. So, as the women bicker in the kitchen while the men gossip in the den, the wit trickles until the power fails and the door bell rings.
Enter a neighbour who, from behind the mask of his bio-hazard suit, delivers the news: “A bunch of dirty bombs were set off downtown.” Indeed, L.A., New York and Orlando were all hit by simultaneous blasts, which fetches an “Awesome” from one of the brunchers and from another a more discerning observation: “Somebody thought Orlando was on a par with those other cities?”
And there’s the picture’s basic gag: Lethal nerve gas may be wafting their way, but nothing can dent the self-absorbed shell of this merry band of narcissists. Doors still slam, doors still open, and the drawing-room comedy remains a drawing-room comedy even onto the 11th hour. In case anyone misses the point, Hedy seizes upon impending disaster as the opportunity to upbraid her boyfriend: “This end-of-the-world thing has really got me re-examining our relationship.”
Happily, it isn’t always that bad. The humour may not be wickedly black, but once in a while it’s amusingly beige. Berger keeps the pace brisk, the cast has fun with their caricatures, and the occasional joke takes wing. Like when Tracy, slumped in a corner and scanning her life’s regrets, laments: “I never went to Europe. I never even went to Montreal, which I hear is very European. And I never watched The Wire.”
Never watched The Wire – finally, the antic doings take a truly tragic turn. Me, I kept hoping she would make amends, find a generator, fire up the TV and load it with a boxed set of all five seasons. Pay the bombs no heed and the gas no never mind. Just settle back and savour the thought: This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, neither a whimper, but with a jaunty whistle and the heady cry of, “Omar coming.”