Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why are you wearing that stupid movie suit?

Let me begin with a few qualifiers lest I should be flamed in the comments. I really enjoyed Donnie Darko (like many I caught it on DVD), though I think that Richard Kelly's script for Domino (and the ensuing picture that came from it) are a mess. I hope against hope that his yet to be produced Bessie script gets made and since he's he's providing James Marsden with his next lead role in The Box I'm generally a fan. But I don't care how big a Kelly fan (or apologist) you are, Southland Tales is a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad mess.

One can see the beginning granules of good ideas but I am floored that executives allowed for any of the elements to get past the script stage. It's just, ugh, unbelievably frustrating film-making. Kelly packs too much into the films and bogs it down with so much exposition you'd think it was a Uwe Boll film. The film takes aim at too many targets all at once and subsequently misses all of them. Jut to run-down a checklist; celebrity culture, the energy crisis, homeland security, election tampering, Communism, war in the Middle East, religion and the nature of reality. Weaving through these myriad bits is Kelly continuing his interest with time travel, which is EXACTLY what this movie needed to seem less convoluted.
So in the midst of all this what is the movie about? The movie follows right-wing action star Boxer Santoros (Dwayne Johnson) who after a bout of amnesia has now started a new life and he may be the Messiah. Or maybe it's just the Messianic, apocalypse preoccupied screenplay that he co-wrote with porn-star-cum-reality-TV-star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Boxer's screenplay may indeed hold the secret behind how the world ends, which seems to mysteriously sync up to an evasive scientist's (Wallace Shawn) plan to use the power of the oceans as a renewable energy source. Meanwhile Boxer needs to research his role in the script as an undercover cop so he rides along with Roland Taverner (Sean William Scott) a member of L.A.'s newly fascist police regime (well...maybe not SO new). Except Roland is really Ronald, Roland's twin brother (OR IS HE? [he isn't]) a member of a Neo-Communist cell that is looking to royally screw over the newly instated USIdent (the US Government now owns the internet and is using it for purposes of homeland security). Did I mention that the cell is stock full of former SNL cast members and Avon Barksdale? Also Justin Timberlake performs a musical number based around The Killers "All These Things that I've Done."

With all these unique elements you may think that this is an interesting movie. It isn't. There's so much to keep track of (I haven't even mentioned the election or any other number of "twists" the movie throws at you) that you can never sit back and enjoy or even ponder the film. The acting is fine but the casting is distracting. I will say that Sarah Michelle Gellar is pretty spot-on as a former porn star and that as usual the Rock gives 100% to a movie he's much better than.
Ugh, what a mess. I guess no one wanted to say "no" to Kelly. Maybe he just layered in too many ideas in one script. Maybe the movie just got away from him. I applaud any filmmaker that wants to tackle the issues of the day and really put his own spin on them, but damn it, a film should at least cohere even if it doesn't make complete sense. I will say this in the films favor, stylistically the film matches up with one of its reoccurring motifs, this is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but with a bang. Stop the banging Mr. Kelly, please.

Southland Tales is now available on DVD. I'd recommend it only to Kelly completists or film sadists.

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