Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad (World) Apocalypse: Southland Tales review


Future critics may not grapple with Richard Kelly's directorial follow-up to the epochal metaphysical teen movie Donnie Darko much more than Tom Green's Freddy Got Fingered. Much less discussed than Lynch's Inland Empire has been already, which uses much different locations in Los Angeles while telling a fractured narrative. Seanbaby once observed there's something appealing about a movie that just doesn't give a fuck. Inland actually gives a serious fuck about David Lynch's logic puzzles. Southland's only saving grace is that it doesn't give a fuck how ridiculous things get, as if to flip a bird continuously at the audience for their expectations: metaphysics and musical numbers as seen in Darko are here as self-parody. Sean William Scott triggers a metaphysical wormhole so gratuitous it feels like a chapter from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Half the brains and twice the sex of Inland Empire, just as much to interpret

The casting of two penultimately "Hollywood" leads - The Rock and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for heaven's sake - and their subsequent portrayals and perils, reek of deliberate camp. A suicidal practical joke may have been played here on the studio. Seeing Jon Lovitz as a psycho cop who cold-bloodedly shoots Amy Poehler isn't quite akin to the last practical joke of this nature. That would be Russ Meyer's blaring of the 20th Century Fox theme over a graphic decapitation in 1970's Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, another movie which functions intentionally as a satire of the material itself. The Rock uses the William Shatner school of drama methods to expound conspiratorially on the space-time continuum and the fabric of the 4th dimension, amongst other things. His sole moment of action movie machismo comes from the quasi-meaningful catch phrase, "I'm a pimp...and pimps don't commit suicide," which he spouts before punching a woman to the ground. Meanwhile, Sarah Michelle Gellar is a porn star whose sex/chat/reality tv show mainly blames "nerds" for society's sexual repression. She releases an album, "Teen Horniness Is Not A Crime." These are the intentionally funny parts, and they shine unconditionally. The rest of the humor is wrapped in an oblique irony that can't quite keep up with itself.

Hostel 3: Sean William Scott Tied To A Chair

To seek the transcendent in this movie the way so many worshippers of Darko are is a fruitless effort. The Phillip K. Dick influence remains far less in use of apocalyptic time travel as a plot device (again, Sean William Scott nominally taking over the Donnie role? How could this not be Kelly's self-parody?) than the K. Dickensian world of warring technocratic and political factions engaged in bio-warfare espionage. The opening narration could be recycled for the upcoming Escape From New York remake as it overloads the audience with as many likely speculations about a societal breakdown in the near future: a shock moment bombing of Texas as the first scene of the film, further escalating wars in the Middle East, an American police state beneath the surface similar to last years' PKD adaptation, A Scanner Darkly. President Bush, who by now must have more IMDB credits than Abe Lincoln, makes his obligatory cameo later. The technique isn't going to let the movie age well. Being a prank of a movie, the immediacy is oddly effective for the grand absurdities in dialogue, plot and gratuitous violence to follow.

Moments before a Takeshii Miike style outburst of extreme gore. I kid you not.

Kelly's designs in the ultra-modern crazy fest include matriarchal Marxists made up of Saturday Night Live actors, a covert Communist Environmentalist mad scientist who dresses like a Flash Gordon villain (played by Wallace "Incon-CEIV-able!" Shawn and flanked by Booger and the little Poltergeist lady) and a slimy Homeland Security head with citywide surveillance control room who also dresses like a B-movie sci-fi Queen. It'd be misleading to call their ideological body counts the film's focus, as if it were a political film. When Kelly's sympathies seem to arise, they're with the Marxists, whose anti-Male ball tasering and subsequent high fives suggest the freewheeling quasi-political attitude of late John Waters. That is the real function of this not-too-distant-future schismatic society. Paradoxically, the lunacy takes center stage from political satire. The world of Southland exists as a familiar, exaggerated self-parody of Kelly's own preoccupation with the apocalypse and time travel. There are Biblical interstitial titles even Uwe Boll might balk at, and Justin Timberlake is a verse-spouting Iraq War veteran whose psyche, we presume, got fried there. Add a kid who turns suicidal the second he hears he's been drafted, and Kelly's thoughts are made pretty clear on that issue.


Kelly's self-referential attitude towards whatever stylistic and narrative flourishes he was honing in Darko is sometimes as torturous as M. Night Shamalyan's in this multi-million dollar frivolity with a running time that emphasizes the state of excess American culture and obliviousness with which we face the uncertain future. When the movie simply tries to be funny in earnest, it does. Few enough times to lose anyone without a hardened taste for camp excess. Towards the end of the escalating future-stupid fun (think zeppelins and floating cars) the comedy finds a sort of second wind by going the distance for truly epic proportions in faux-pretentious pointlessness. Or is it truly pointless? Either way, a classic flop is born.

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