Richard Kelly directs Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sean William Scott in this loooong existential near-future thriller spoof where neo-Marxists manipulate a confused action hero, a cop with a twin and a mainstream porn star to topple a fascist clean energy conglomerate.
Donnie Darko was a tenuous attempt to make an emo Back to the Future that infused Lynchian dread with Kurt Vonnegut plotting. The fact that Kelly somehow walked that near impossible tightrope with his debut marked him out as a filmmaker to watch. His indulgent, unruly and self-sabotaging follow-up kinda proved he was lucky to make it across the wire that initial attempt. This time he fell, there was no net and his career hasn’t snapped back into shape since. Though I do kinda like The Box, his third and final film. Southland Tales though is a train wreck. A pile-up. I’ve glared into the near- three hour wreckage of it twice now… both times optimistic. And once you’ve endured the first hour and squeezed some poorly sold intention out of it, there are flashes of genius. That first hour though! 10 minutes of exposition overload… a narrated prologue that seemingly never ends. Then we float around a series of vacant and lifeless characters played by upcoming stars who are playing against type. Types we were only just investing into in 2006. Scott is an underrated actor and sells his puppet cop with minimal fuss, admirably never falling back on his broad comedy persona. The Rock is a bizarre presence – channeling Stan Laurel’s childish nervousness in some scenes and just blankly enduring through reams of conspiracy (there are lots of overlapping factions to keep track of if you can in anyway follow the plot) in most scenes. Sarah Michelle Gellar actually is good camp fun as the gormless porn star turned influencer. This is the one prediction Kelly makes of “the now” that was right… just a shame her adult superstar remains strictly PG for the plot. The fact she is fully clothed and sexless throughout just doesn’t work. Whenever there’s a lip-synced musical number… there are musical numbers… the film jump starts and has our attention. There are nexus points when the random plot strands crossover and it almost feels worthwhile. The finale, though very drawn out, has some trippy imagery and finality to it. It is like panning for gold in a stream no-one has found a nugget in yet! If this is your favourite film you are trying too hard. But if you can’t find anything to love among all the flat, TV movie looking, daffy hubris then you probably don’t love cult cinema. Hard to recommend but difficult to completely write-off.
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