'The Tomorrow Man' ★1/2
Ed Hemsler won't stop thinking about tomorrow, but that's not because he's an optimist. The title character of “The Tomorrow Man” is what's known as a “prepper”: someone who's eagerly planning for the collapse of human civilization that he's sure is looming.
If Ed, as a movie hero, is improbable, so is nearly everything about writer-director Noble Jones's debut feature. “The Tomorrow Man” is primarily a golden-years romance, with ingratiating lead performances by John Lithgow and his co-star, Blythe Danner. But many aspects of the script are misconceived, underdeveloped or just plain feeble.
Ed is retired, long-divorced and living in an unidentified furrow of Middle America. His son, who lives close, but not too close, doesn't much enjoy Dad's telephone rants about the imminent end of it all. Ed has a more sympathetic audience online, where he posts warnings on chat boards under the user name “Captain Reality.”
At first, the movie seems as committed to impending societal breakdown as its protagonist is. But then Ed notices a woman during his frequent runs to the local supermarket. Ronnie Meisner (Danner) doesn't use credit cards, just like Ed. It must be a sign.
But of what? Lonely Ronnie, a widow who lives by herself, is more confused than alarmed by Ed's interest in her. She soon warms to him and agrees to dinner. On the drive home, he's flooded with emotion when she begins to sing along to a tune that's close to his heart: “Muskrat Love,” by Captain & Tennille.
Only in a rom-com would anyone encounter a character – let alone two of them – so moved by that ditty.
“The Tomorrow Man” contrives a few tests for the new relationship, including Thanksgiving dinner with Ed's son (Derek Cecil), daughter-in-law (Katie Aselton) and surly teenage granddaughter (Sophie Thatcher). The first big crisis comes after Ed allows Ronnie to become the only outsider ever to enter his secret room, stocked with food and supplies. Then she invites him to her place, which is not at all what he expected.
The director, who began his career making music videos, serves here as his own cinematographer. But he doesn't bring any particular sense of style to the film, playing down flashy visuals while stressing Lithgow and Danner's performances and the meager scenario.
“The Tomorrow Man” would be more interesting, and more difficult, if Ed subscribed to any of the hateful beliefs common among preppers. But his paranoia is unmoored from the current political climate, which makes the film's final veer back to Ed's obsession seem all the more forced and hollow.
The movie's ending could be called a twist. But it's really more of a belly flop.