I’m Certain You Can Skip Uncertainty!

Running time  101 minutes
Written And Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lynn Collins

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the young actor who was so charismatic in (500) Days of Summer and so deadly dull in Brick, now finds his interesting, sleepy-eyed face worthy of well-earned catatonia in a load of pretentious bilge called Uncertainty, which more than lives up to its title. This is one of those alternate-reality snoozes that makes you wonder what everybody was smoking.

On a hot, sweltering Fourth of July in New York, Bobby and Kate, a pair of lovers on the Brooklyn Bridge, cannot decide whether to spend the day in Brooklyn or Manhattan, so they flip a coin. Two different stories then unfold congruently, with the same couple on the same day but with separate sets of possibilities. I hate to bring you bad news, but the result is two unwatchable narratives instead of one.

In the Manhattan version, wearing a yellow T-shirt, Bobby (Mr. Gordon-Levitt, trying to look animated) finds a lost cell phone in the back of a taxi. Several people call claiming to be the owner. One arrives to pick up the phone and gets shot dead on a street in Chinatown. The second person offers $500,000 to get it back. Maybe the movie is about 101 minutes of waiting to find out what’s on the phone and why it’s worth dying for, but the story keeps switching gears. In the Brooklyn alternative, Bobby wears a green T-shirt, and Kate (Lynn Collins) drags him off to visit her parents, meeting up with all kinds of problematic subtexts that contain all the tension of a hangnail. (What should they do with the stray dog they rescue in a traffic jam? Should they tell Kate’s family she’s pregnant?) The two stories are intercut, jumping all over the place. The only way you can tell what’s going on is by the clothes they’re wearing. If you’re colorblind, God help you. You might as well stay home and watch something in black and white.

In the yellow T-shirt Manhattan plot, the couple demand money from the highest cell phone bidder and traipse all around town, from the U.N. to the New York Public Library to Union Square, as Kate grapples with the moral dilemma of being an extortionist. In the green T-shirt Brooklyn plot, Bobby grapples with being a vegetarian in a house full of meat eaters, and Kate grapples with the fact that her mother will kill her if she finds out she’s 11 weeks pregnant. They do a lot of grappling. The only serious question is, why did it take two directors to turn a simple idea into an exasperating Rubik’s Cube instead of one? The pretentious “What if?” architecture of the film’s dual plotting, pitting 007 adventure against familiar domesticity, is a real mess. Scott McGehee and David Siegel have written and co-directed Uncertainty with all the polish of film-school dropouts learning on the job. The press notes insist this is the same pair that brought us The Deep End, the brilliant 2001 thriller starring Tilda Swinton, but like John O’Hara said when George Gershwin died, I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.

  I’m Certain You Can Skip Uncertainty!