“Uncertainty” reps an uncertain attempt indeed by writer-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel to return to their roots in quasi-experimental, formally informed cinema. A potentially intriguing idea on paper — a young couple flips a coin to decide which of two ways they’ll spend the day, and the film portrays both options — proves half formulaic and half simply unimaginative onscreen. A bright visual package notwithstanding, this has little chance with the public.
McGehee and Siegel made their mark in 1994 with the provocative “Suture,” which dealt in its own way with intriguing dualities. After a step forward with “The Deep End” and a step backward with “Bee Season,” the team tries something different here that deliberately marginalizes itself commercially without justifying itself artistically.
The most striking moments are the initial brilliant, pristine images of the Brooklyn Bridge and environs, where lovers Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kate (Lynn Collins) pause to consider their future, in both the immediate and long-term senses. Kate is pregnant and admits, “I’m afraid of destiny,” so Bobby puts their fate at the mercy of a coin toss, triggering the film’s jump into two alternate, parallel realities.
In one scenario, the couple goes as planned to Kate’s parents’ home in Brooklyn, where assorted relatives and friends assemble for a Fourth of July cookout and fireworks. While the pregnancy causes a bit of standard drama, this entire episode is uncompelling to the point of terminal dullness, with no significant character insights or artistic grace notes to lift the torpor.
Layered into this strand is a Manhattan adventure in which, having found a stray cell phone in a taxi and contacted its owner, Bobby and Kate are chased all over Chinatown by a rabid gunman. Interlude plays like an old-fashioned TV show or an indifferently directed suspense feature, because it’s all so arbitrary, with nothing on the line.
Rather than creating an interesting opposition of events, the double-barreled format merely points up the artificiality of every aspect of the venture. If you want to explore the vagaries of chance and multiple options, best to do it as comedy; Buster Keaton and Preston Sturges, just to name two, had field days playing with similar ideas.
Under the circumstances, there is little that Gordon-Levitt and Collins, agreeable as they are, can do to invigorate the picture, which in all respects is exemplary from a technical point of view.