Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Kevin Smith, Amy Poehler, Cheri Oteri, Nora Dunn, Holmes Osbourne, Miranda Richardson, Jon Lovitz, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Lambert
Director: Richard Kelly
SUNY Purchase '05
"I don't compromise my values and I don't compromise my work. I won't give in." -Michael Moore
Review By: Rocco Passafuime
Director Richard Kelly has emerged as one of this generation's more unique American filmmakers. His feature film debut was the 2001 science-fiction/drama Donnie Darko, which has emerged as one of the decade's biggest cult classics.
Now, Kelly has taken his uniquely heady and philosophical science-fiction narrative style into the world of the future dystopia. The result is the film Southland Tales, now available on DVD.
In an alternate world, Texas is the center of a nuclear explosion committed by terrorists. As World War III breaks in the ensuing chaos and oil prices go through the roof, an alternate source of fuel is soon developed known as "fluid karma"Â by the eccentric scientist Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn), while the internet is placed under federal control by an government agency known as USIdent.
In the interim, Boxer Santeros (Dwayne Johnson), a famous action movie star and son-in-law of a powerful Republican senator Bobby Frost, has re-emerged in what is now known as Southland, having suffered amnesia. He has now struck a relationship and written a film with porn star-turned-multimedia-personality Krysta "Now"Â Kapowski (Sarah Michelle Gellar).
Along the way, Boxer crosses paths with various left-wing anarchists, their liaisons, and their enemies as he determines to uncover the truth about his mysterious circumstances. One liason in particular, twins Ronald and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), he soon discovers may not only hold the answers to them, but to a conspiracy surrounding Westphalen's corporation and their links to the government, as Armageddon nears.
Receiving plenty of jeers during its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Southland Tales has proven to be a bit of a sophomore slump for Richard Kelly. His directorial flair and penchant for moody, dark atmosphere continues to shine here and his intent is nothing if not deeply thoughtful and ambitious.
To his credit, Kelly has plenty of good ideas here in the film's various critiques against war, government corruption, and the burgeoning tabloid media culture. However, the problem isn't so much his ideas, but how much he implements them.
Firstly, his many ideas are too numerous to the point of overreaching and stretch the film's subject matter incredibly thin. As a result, the film lacks a great deal of focus in its vision, way more so than the similarly cryptic Donnie Darko ever did.
Kelly makes matters worse with his bloated ensemble cast of characters, which are too many of perceived importance to follow the film. To top that, his often bizarre casting choices saddle the film with actors of varying degrees of talent from the decent (Johnson, Moore) to the OK (Gellar, Scott, Timberlake) to the downright absurd (all the comic actors, Lambert, Ling, and Rubenstein). This is made even worse by the fact that Kelly shows little ability in getting much out of his varying cast, speaking his
But what cripples this film the most is Kelly's choice to juxtapose into his already fairly complex and sprawling future dystopia plot with not only his self-indulgent obsessions with the space-time continuum and pseudo-intellectual spiritual and scientific psycho babble held over from his previous film, but bizarre forays into musicals and comedy. In short, Kelly has undoubtedly intriguing ideas and symbolism peppered throughout the film, but his lack of willingness to hone or shape them into anything solid hurts this kind of grand-scale storytelling tremendously, creating a film that is not only immensely difficult to follow and incoherent, but frankly absurd and self-indulgent.
The DVD's picture quality is presented in the 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, with the sound quality in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. The DVD also comes with a pair of special features.
The first is the lengthy featurette "USIDent TV: Surveilling The Southland"Â. Featuring cast and crew interviews, it very much to its credit explains and dissects some of the film's many cryptic elements, and the genuine confusion over the basic tenets of the film from actors like Lovitz, Rubenstein, and Wallace are very telling. Rounding out the special features is an animated short film "This Is The Way The World Ends"Â, which is mildly pleasing, but the animation rudimentarily primitive.
By comparison, Donnie Darko's meandering science-fiction overreach managed to be relatively intriguing within the confines of a small-town adolescent tale of apocalyptic darkness. However, this kind of relentless complexity severely hamstrings a much larger-scale film like Southland Tales. While Kelly continues to be a great director, his lack of skill with actors and his obtuse, cryptic, and pontificating, psycho-babble-laden script with one-too-many characters mutates what could have been an incredibly intriguing future dystopia film into an absolutely incoherent, confounding, and self-indulgent mess.
Movie Grade: D
DVD Features Grade: B
Overall Grade: C