Goodbye World: LAFF Review

Stock characters fiddle while the world burns around them in "The Big Chill" crossed with "World War Z."

"Entourage" alum Adrian Grenier stars in Denis Henry Hennelly's movie about a group of college friends reuniting on the brink of the apocalypse.

This seems to be the summer for apocalyptic nightmares at the movies. While most of these are big-budget extravaganzas, a micro version of the same scenario is playing at L.A. Film Fest. Goodbye World is about a group of friends who gather at a compound in the woods north of San Francisco while the world is collapsing all around them.  As they figure out how to survive, they also rehash their romantic relationships and recall their youthful idealism.  Think The Big Chill crossed with World War Z, an odd combo that never jells successfully. A good cast gives the movie a pleasing professional sheen, but the picture isn’t strong enough either as a character drama or a futuristic fable to make any waves at the box office.

At the start a mysterious text message saying “Goodbye World” starts appearing on cell phones and computers all over the world.  But the message is infected with a virus that begins shutting down America’s technological networks.  Massive power failures lead to chaos on the streets, which we glimpse only in a few newsreel snippets. Our two main characters, James (Adrian Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishe), have already retreated to a rural compound in anticipation of just such a catastrophe, and several of their old college friends—including Benjamin (Mark Webber), a political activist recently released from prison, and Laura (Gaby Hoffmann), a woman whose high-powered career was ruined after a sex video of her affair with a Senator went viral—somehow manage to make the trek to Mendocino County. 

PHOTOS: 26 of Summer's Most Anticipated Movies: 'Man of Steel,' 'Wolverine,' 'The Lone Ranger'

While they stock up on supplies and try to ascertain what is taking place in the outside world, they drink, smoke pot, and rehash old quarrels and brood over lost loves. There is one outsider in the group, reminiscent of the Meg Tilly character in The Big Chill; Ariel (Remy Nozik) is the young girlfriend of the recently freed radical, and her alienation from the older members of the group serves as a kind of trigger mechanism to awaken all the dormant longings and hostilities within this close-knit clan.

There are some effective scenes involving a couple of menacing National Guard soldiers who try to invade the compound.  These encounters generate real tension and suggest that the film might have been better if it had been conceived as more of a suspense thriller.  Too often, instead, it plays like a soap opera set on the brink of the apocalypse.  When Lily screams to James, “I want a divorce,” her romantic disaffection seems almost ludicrous in the context of the breakdown of civilization.  Lily is still harboring romantic feelings for an old boyfriend, Nick (Ben McKenzie), who turns up with his new wife , Becky (Caroline Dhavernas), to settle scores with James, his onetime business partner.  All of the panting melodrama trivializes the life-and-death issues swirling around these characters.  During these turgid personal quarrels, the film begins to resemble a bad disaster movie (like Earthquake) from the 1970s.

Although the script (by director Denis Henry Hennelly and Sarah Adina Smith) verges on the absurd, the actors bring considerable conviction to their roles.  Grenier and Webber are perfectly competent, but the strongest performances are given by the women.  Bishe brings wit and sensuality to her role, and Hoffmann (who started out as a child actress in such films as Uncle Buck and Sleepless in Seattle) also conveys intelligence and strength.  The richest character of all may be the conservative Becky.  She seems narrow-minded at first, but she proves to have unexpected depths, and the striking Dhavernas does justice to the character’s complexities.

Hennelly’s direction is stronger than his script. The film looks very handsome, and it is tightly edited. In the end, however, it proves to be too much of a misbegotten hybrid to be fully satisfying.

Cast:  Adrian Grenier, Gaby Hoffmann, Mark Webber, Kerry Bishe, Caroline Dhavernas, Ben McKenzie, Remy Nozik, Scott Mescudi.

Director:  Denis Henry Hennelly

Screenwriters:  Denis Henry Hennelly, Sarah Adina Smith.

Producers:  Mary Pat Bentel, Matthew G. Zamias, Guy Moshe, Albertino Matalon, Sarah Adina Smith.

Executive producers: Samuel T. Bauer, Tal Hackmey, Michael L. Mailis, Damian G. Zamias, Dave Brown.

Director of photography:  Jeff Bollman.

Production designers:  Katie Byron, Rachael Ferrara.

Music:  Eric D. Johnson.

Costume designer:  Tiffany White.

Editor: Greg O’Bryant.

No rating, 100 minutes.