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'Biosphere' takes a mostly comic look at a friendship between the last men on Earth

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

If filmmakers wanted to make movies during the pandemic, especially low-budget independent comedies, it helped if their story was self-contained. "Biosphere" is self-contained, just two actors and a single setting. But critic Bob Mondello says that doesn't keep the film from being about grand themes, including the end of the world as we know it.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Two childhood friends jogging inside a geodesic dome roughly the size of a large one-bedroom apartment talking the complexities of Super Mario Brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

MARK DUPLASS: (As Billy) Some would argue that Mario is the maybe more attractive one.

STERLING K BROWN: (As Ray) No. They had the same face.

DUPLASS: (As Billy) What? No, they didn't.

BROWN: (As Ray) Yeah, they did. Luigi was literally the same guy, just a different color.

MONDELLO: These guys are, as you might have guessed, really talking about themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Whatever. It doesn't matter. It's not the point.

BROWN: (As Ray) OK then, Billy, what is your point?

DUPLASS: (As Billy) I'm sorry. You got somewhere you need to be right now?

BROWN: (As Ray) No, man. I'm just on pins and needles, honestly.

MONDELLO: Billy, played by Mark Duplass, sees himself as Mario, the guy in charge.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Someone is still the face of the operation.

MONDELLO: And in fairness, Billy was - or maybe still is - the president of the United States. His pal Ray, played by Sterling K. Brown, would be in Billy's read of the metaphor...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

BROWN: (As Ray) What, the sidekick?

DUPLASS: (As Billy) No, man. I was going to say, like, the secret sauce.

BROWN: (As Ray) You mean like the man behind the curtain?

MONDELLO: Yes, the man behind the curtain, President Billy's fixer. But there was something Ray evidently couldn't fix because they are now, after some unspecified worldwide catastrophe apparently caused by Billy, the last two men on Earth. The world outside the dome is pitch black. The mood inside is, under the circumstances, comparatively sunny.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

BROWN: (As Ray) You showed them, didn't you?

DUPLASS: (As Billy) That's not funny.

BROWN: (As Ray) It's a little funny.

DUPLASS: (As Billy) It's not that funny.

BROWN: (As Ray) Come on.

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Kind of hurts my feelings. Oh.

BROWN: (As Ray) You going to try to take me out, too? You'll never survive.

MONDELLO: Ray has stocked the dome with food as well as entertainment - "Kiss Of The Spider Woman," "Lethal Weapon 2." And he's rigged up a closed system of air and water filtration. A few fish in a pool are the linchpin that keeps it all operating, which is great until one of the fish dies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Another one? What is that, two left now? Should we be worried?

BROWN: (As Ray) It'll be OK.

DUPLASS: (As Billy) OK. Good. Because on the bright side, I'm really hoping this means we can have fish tonight.

MONDELLO: Director and co-writer Mel Eslyn has crafted the story as a mostly comic look at masculinity, adaptability and straight male relationships under stress. Nothing in the script, which was co-written by Duplass, is off topic - not the video games, nor the buddy flicks on the shelves, nor even the names of the fish...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Which one is it, by the way?

MONDELLO: ...Which all come from TV's "Cheers."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

BROWN: (As Ray) Sam.

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Oh, that's kind of sad.

BROWN: (As Ray) Yeah. Let me get dinner ready.

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Yeah. Diane, what are you going to do without your Sam?

MONDELLO: Less fleshed out as the cataclysm that's brought the world to this place - nuclear, ecological - it's not clear, also not relevant to the questions the film is raising about social and personal evolution...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Don't give me that face. I know you know what I'm talking about. You withhold info from me.

BROWN: (As Ray) It's called protecting.

MONDELLO: ...Questions that have some urgency with just two men and two fish left.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

BROWN: (As Ray) You are super touchy, Billy, and you freak out.

DUPLASS: (As Billy) I do not freak out.

MONDELLO: There are plot strands I should not spoil and debates about the brokenness of world destruction that are better left to viewers than to reviewers. Suffice it to say that Billy clings, as do the filmmakers, to raise insistence that in a pinch, nature adapts.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

DUPLASS: (As Billy) Life finds a way.

BROWN: (As Ray) You didn't just quote "Jurassic Park."

DUPLASS: (As Billy) I mean, I think somebody else said it first, but you know what I mean.

BROWN: (As Ray) Well, son, if that's what it takes...

MONDELLO: "Waiting For Godot" "Biosphere" isn't - just an engaging two-hander for a couple of performers and a director who seem perfectly content to leave you rolling your eyes as long as you're also chuckling. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.