For the sake of honesty I have to admit that I’ve never quite connected with Andy Samberg’s brand of comedy. To be fair I’ve only seen glimpses of his television work (none of it stuck with me), but when it comes to his movies I’ve struggled to lock onto what others consider to be funny. That may have put me behind the eight ball when it came to seeing his new film “Palm Springs”.
Directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara, “Palm Springs” is a movie with a bit of an identity crisis. Obviously it’s a comedy first, one that can be mildly amusing but that insists on vainly going the low-hanging, low-brow route. It’s also a romance that takes too long getting going and then cuts it short just as the characters are taking shape and their relationship is becoming interesting. And it’s a half-baked science-fiction flick with a time loop, some kind of magic cave, and one character who becomes an quantum physicist after an online class and a few Google searches.
Samburg plays a wisecracking downer named Nyles who is in Palm Springs for a wedding with his spacey girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner). Meanwhile the sister of the bride and maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) earns her reputation as the troubled black sheep of the family. Both Nyles and Sarah are essentially outcasts but for much different reasons. Sarah is fed up with herself and the life she lives. And witnessing the bliss of her highly accomplished younger sister (Camila Mendes) doesn’t help. Nyles, well he’s stuck in a time-loop where he relives the same day over and over again. Whenever he falls asleep he wakes up on the day of the wedding. If he dies, same thing.
That may sound like a spoiler but it’s actually revealed within the first 15 minutes or so. Nyles has watched the wedding play out countless times. He knows all the players and all the scenarios. It’s no wonder he comes across as bored and disaffected. He lives in a world of no consequences and no repercussions. That’s why he can show up to the wedding in a Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, and chugging a can of beer. For him it’s all meaningless and no matter what he does (good or bad) it’ll all be erased once he wakes up again.
Then something unexpected happens. Nyles saves Sarah’s bacon at the reception leading to a walk under the stars and eventually the two of them making out. Then out of the blue Nyles is shot with an arrow by a lunatic commando wannabe named Roy (the always sturdy J.K. Simmons). A wounded Nyles gets away from his assailant and crawls into the glowing light beaming out of a mysterious nearby cave. But Sarah finds him and against his warnings enters the cave too. Poof! Guess who else is now caught in the time loop?
Throw aside the obvious questions like ‘What’s up with this cave?’ and ‘Why would Nyles take Sarah a few yards from said cave to make out?’ The movie isn’t interested in those things. Instead it slowly attempts to develop a believable relationship as Sarah comes to grips with her predicament while Nyles attempts to teach her the rules. We end up in a rom-com purgatory of sorts full of carefree hijinks leading to an eventual (and utterly predictable) romance.
Yes Sarah falls for Nyles (something you can see coming a mile away) but I’m still not sure why. Her optimism does start to soften his nihilism which makes him slightly less obnoxious. But while Samberg and Milioti have a playful chemistry, there isn’t an ounce of romantic sizzle. It’s not the fault of the actors. Instead it’s Siara’s script which spends more time goofing around rather than digging into his characters. They say things that sound like depth and dimension, but it rarely gets below surface-level.
It’s a shame because you see the ingredients for something better especially when it comes to Sarah. There is a sadness and melancholy with the character that’s never fully explored. Yet it’s sold through Milioti’s strong conviction and go-for-it performance. Meanwhile Samberg is basically playing the same kind of goof he has many times before. I’m sure fans will love him here, but I didn’t find him (or the movie itself) all that funny. I will say Samberg has a dance number that initially doesn’t make sense at all, but it’s actually quite funny once you get your footing and see where it’s coming from. Otherwise the laughs are pretty sparse.
“Palm Springs” is essentially a less attractive and less nuanced “Groundhog Day”. It tries to differentiate itself by throwing out some new ideas but it doesn’t do enough with them. Instead it’s so beholden to its raunchy comedy ambitions that we end up with more cheap sex gags than meaningful character moments. And when we do finally get some of those moments they’ve had such little time to germinate that they end up feeling hollow. That’s how I felt about the movie as a whole and not even a wild-eyed, coked-up J.K. Simmons could change my mind. “Palm Springs” is now playing on Hulu.
VERDICT – 2 STARS