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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: Southland Tales (2007)


Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake

Dear Richard Kelly,

Just what the fuck was that?

Southland Tales is an absolute mess of a movie based in part on the Book of Revelation and having to do with terrorist attacks, war in the Middle East, various governmental and non-governmental factions spying on and plotting against each other, oil shortage and the development of an alternate source of fuel which causes a rift in the fourth dimension which in turn causes Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) and Rolland Taverner (Sean William Scott) to develop doubles... and some other stuff. It’s kind of hard to say what, exactly, it’s about because it is so unfocused, so muddled and convoluted that any real thread of a story is buried deep, deep within this pretentious and self-indulgent film.

Throughout the film writer/director Kelly mixes elements of science fiction, musical and what he apparently believes to be satire. These satirical inclinations are most obvious through the prevalence of Saturday Night Live and MadTV alumni in the cast, and through the character of Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a porn star, mistress of Boxer, and collaborator with the Neo-Marxists who are working to use Boxer, the son-in-law of the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, to subvert the government. When not helping to set Boxer up, Krysta is busy turning herself into a product by recording her own album (which includes the single “Teen Horniness Is Not A Crime”) and creating her own talk show and energy drink. A lot of the wink-nudge moments in the film come courtesy of her, but even though I don’t think these elements really work, this isn’t a criticism of Gellar herself who is good here and of all the actors seems to have the best grasp of her character. Ultimately, the problem with the film’s aspiration towards satire is that for satire to be effective, it must be clever and this film is not. The comedy in the film is so easy, so lacking in bite that it misses the satirical mark and lands firmly in the realm of parody. In the tradition of films like Epic Movie and Superhero Movie, this might as well have been called David Lynch Movie.

I’m a big fan of Kelly’s previous film Donnie Darko and a firm believer that there are few things more rewarding than a challenging film, but Southland Tales is inaccessible to the point of being ridiculous and to make matters worse, it’s also kind of pointless. Even as I was beginning to lose myself in the film, I felt that there must be some ideas being expressed regarding governmental control, suspension of basic freedoms and Apocalyptic religious preaching, but the more I thought about the film afterwards, the more suspicious I became about its structure. Words and phrases like “Patriot Act” and “civil liberties” are thrown out frequently to make it seem as if the film is actually about something, but the twisting, turning, overlapping plot is just a means of disguising the fact that the film doesn’t really have anything to say. If Kelly’s point is that the Patriot Act is bad and runs contrary to the tenets of democracy, then my response is: no shit. There’s no there there in Southland Tales; it’s just a mish-mash of quirky characters and peculiar moments that add up to nothing.

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