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Southland Tales

dir: Richard Kelly
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Sure, Richard Kelly made Donnie Darko, but what has he done for us lately?

Well, pull up a pew and prepare to be dazzled: he made a really shit follow-up film called Southland Tales.

Southland Tales is, at the same time, an incoherent and over-explained mess that has almost no redeeming value except that the viewer shifts between boredom and incredulity on a second-to-second basis.

The issue that plagues me the most is that I can’t figure out why the actors and crew making this load of crap didn’t rebel and overthrow Kelly in a bloody coup. He should have, based on how painfully embarrassing scene after scene is, been strung up like Mussolini at the end of his reign of terror.

It’s pretty clear that whatever happened to make Donnie Darko a fan favourite was almost purely by accident. Not only does Kelly fail to achieve anything worthwhile in this flick, he proves consistently that he has no idea how to tell a story or how to make a film.

The multiplicity of characters and storylines doesn’t bug me one bit. The fatal flaw is that none of it matters and none of it really connects together to tell anything remotely close to a story worth hearing. And the acting and direction are just… amateurish. I felt embarrassed watching so many scenes, because I got the strong impression that Kelly had no idea what he was doing and even less idea as to how to do it.

In some kind of alternate past/future, a nuclear terrorist attack on Abilene, Texas results in the US becoming even more of a police state and reinstituting the military draft and launching even more wars around the globe. It is 2008, and there’s a presidential election coming up.

At the same time, Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn) has constructed an offshore platform perpetual motion machine which uses a substance called Fluid Karma to create enough energy to supply power to California remotely. As a side effect of the machine’s operation, the world’s rotation is slowing down by some fraction, which is making people commit more crimes, and has created a rift in the space/time continuum.

At the same time, action movie superstar Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) wakes up on a beach with amnesia.

At the same time a cadre of Neo-Marxists plot to start a revolution by staging an apparent racist murder by the police by kidnapping a guy called Roland (Seann William Scott) and having his Iraq veteran twin brother Ronald impersonate him (also Seann William Scott). He is supposed to take Boxer Santaros to a house and pretend to kill two spoken word performers pretending to be a married couple on camera. Only one of Roland or Ronald can be awake at any one time; as soon as one of them wakes up, the other is inevitably knocked out.

At the same time, Christopher Lambert drives around in an ice cream truck selling guns. Christopher Lambert is in this movie. That should be enough to convince anyone as to what quality, what fineness is on offer here.

At the same time, Boxer Santaros has sex with a Paris Hilton-type porn star celebrity called Krista Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who is a one-woman talk show/perfume/pop star/energy drink industry. She and Boxer write a screenplay to a film called The Power which has a plot that sounds worse even than the one in Southland Tales, but the upshot is that Boxer believes himself to be both Boxer and the main character from the screenplay, and progressively finds elements of the screenplay occurring in “real” life”. For reasons I never understood he also starts pouring beer all over himself.

At the same time, a scarred Justin Timberlake sits in a gun turret and delivers a constant, highly irritating voiceover quoting from the Book of Revelation and explaining elements of the film and the setup that become more nonsensical and irritating the more they’re explained. Both he and the Roland/Ronald character had been injected with Fluid Karma which has given them some telepathic powers.

At the same time, the Senator father of the woman married to Boxer Santaros is striving for the presidency, and his wife (Miranda Richardson) runs an evil panopticon surveillance network called US Ident that watches everything that everyone does, including bathroom visits. She sits watching multiple screens and eating some kind of cheesy snacks in the ugliest fashion possible for the entire flick’s duration whilst dressed as Cruella De Ville from 101 Dalmations.

At the same time, oh fuck it, I give up. There’s more, plenty more crap, as well as references to everything from an old flick called Kiss Me Deadly, T.S. Eliot’s poetry, an old Star Trek episode called The Alternative Factor, Phillip K Dick’s Flow My Tears Said the Policeman, even the bloody Jane’s Addiction song Three Days plays a part in the plot. And plenty more. And Justin Timberlake has a music clip lipsynching to a Killers song which has him pouring beer all over the place in a t-shirt covered in blood and there are midgets for no discernible reason and and and

Enough. This is all just crap. It’s meaningless crap, and all the explanations and voiceovers in the world, all the additional materials and graphic novels can’t hide the fact that this is a terrible story poorly told.

To hide the fact that he has no idea what he’s doing and no idea how to tell the story, crap is piled on top of crap on top of kitchen sinks upon entire kitchens until you figure even the director had no idea what is going on, despite what he says in painful interviews that read like apologias. There are scenes so fucking awful on display that I’d be amazed if there aren’t any ‘deleted’ scenes floating around where the actors give up in disgust and just start spitting en masse at Richard Kelly.

I’m sure most of these actors can act, but there’s something really strange about the way they are directed to act in this, to the extent where I feel comfortable putting the blame entirely on the director for just how crap everyone acts in this. There are these strange pauses before, during and after dialogue is delivered that made me think the point of the movie was that every single character in it was a robot that at some point was going to rip off its face and reveal that everyone was being played by William Shatner.

Maybe I’m just perverse, but The Rock’s performance (as Dwayne Johnson used to be known) is almost worth watching just for how strange it is. It is beyond strange, and it’s not his fault that the flick doesn’t work at all, since he puts in a valiant effort. He also gave me the tiniest amount of respite with his madness and his lines regarding pimps, and how pimps don’t commit suicide. For all his failings as an actor and human being, he has a lot of presence, and is as “good” here as he was enjoyable in another complete piece of crap called Be Cool. Although there’s far more nonsense and insanity involved here.

Also, the judicious use of the lines “No one rocks the cock like Krysta Now” and “Cockchuggers 2: Cockchuggin’?” almost made me think that perhaps I was watching everything from the wrong angle. Then the tone would shift so badly and so jarringly that I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why I was cutting this shit flick any slack.

However Kelly managed to get Donnie Darko made, it seems as if he forgot entirely how to put together a movie since then. I'm referring to the initial released version, not the Director's Cut, which took a good film and made it less good. Darko has its faults, for sure, but he managed to synthesise disparate and wildly different elements into a cohesive whole, managed to meld it into a compelling narrative, created a pervasive mood and feel to guide everything into harmony with the various threads, themes and elements of the movie in a way audiences could connect to. And it had characters that were remotely believable, even Frank, the guy in the bunny suit, which enhanced instead of detracted from the seemingly complicated storyline regarding reality, time travel and other storytelling crutches.

None of that even remotely occurs here. Shit literally flies out of nowhere, scenes begin and end as if you’re channel surfing through hundreds of channels of bad tv, and the film ends with an ending that I’m sure meant the world to Kelly, but means nothing despite the bewildering array of people on the internet claiming that to not like the flick means you didn’t understand it.

Yeah, there’s an explanation for what went on, but the explanations are meaningless especially when the constituent parts are so aggressively irritating and when the explanations only cover why something is where it is, or what it’s supposed to mean, or what it connects to, needing to refer to elements outside of the film but never being able to explain what dramatic purpose it serves by being in the film in the first place.

The ending of the flick, involving as it does a levitating ice cream truck, a zeppelin blowing up, everything or nothing being destroyed with a whimper instead of a bang, is as poorly handled and as incompetent as any other element of this excruciating endeavour. And two and a half hours of this shit is just beyond endurance. They should be strapping down people at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq and showing them this flick. They’ll be confessing in seconds and then biting through their tongues and drowning in their own blood to get away from watching it ever again.

Southland Tales is beyond a mess, beyond crap, beyond amateurish. I spent the vast majority of the flick’s interminable running time feeling deeply embarrassed as each inept scene was topped by the one following it.

I know that this isn’t going to end the careers of any of the people involved, but maybe it should. This kind of anti-film makes all films look worse, and makes people wonder why they waste so much of their lives watching crap when they could be out living, laughing, drinking, smoking and fucking.

In fact, that’s as good a reason as any never to watch this flick or to spend any more time than you have to reading a review of mine about such a piece of crap. We’ve both got better things to do with our time, don’t we?

2 time all the explanations in this or any other alternate world cannot hide the hollowness at the heart of this mess out of 10.

“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted.” – Southland Tales.