It’s well known that I don’t like Donnie Darko, which is supposedly why only 5 people read videogum (that’s not even close to why). But I will say in my defense that I went into Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales with an open mind. I like dystopian nightmares, and I have respect for ambitious projects that attempt to encapsulate a grand theory of the world within a couple of hours. As it turns out, though, I don’t like poorly envisioned dystopian nightmares, and Kelly’s film may have been an ambitious project, but its ambition wasn’t so much to encapsulate a grand theory of the world within a couple of hours as it was to distill three hours of bong talk into two and a half hours (he edited out all the parts about how if God is omnipotent could He create a boulder so heavy that even God couldn’t lift it, but that’s the only part that he edited out.)
Southland Tales is set in an alternate 2008 after a nuclear attack on Texas. The United States is now at war with the whole Middle East, and back home Americans live under military rule. The main character is played by The Rock, who’s a movie star caught up in some kind of world domination scheme revolving around perpetual energy created by a velour-robe-wearing homunculus played by Wallace Shawn. There are political intrigues, time-space-continuum-rips, revolutionary counter-forces, echoes of 9/11, and it ends when SPOILER ALERT two Seann William Scotts hold magic hands and cause their ice cream truck to rise into the sky where a kid in a doo rag can shoot a missile launcher at a Zeppelin. Yikes. Save us Avon Barksdale.
The main problem, though, is that the movie doesn’t make any sense. And it’s not that it doesn’t make any sense because I’m too stupid (although I am very stupid), it doesn’t make any sense because Richard Kelly’s pedestrian, unfinished ideas have nothing to do with each other and are not stitched together in any meaningful way. Like, sure, yes, OK, Richard Kelly, we can all agree that the world is becoming overrun with marketing.
But that idea hasn’t been interesting since Supermarket Sweep. Moreover, for an alternate history to be compelling and have metaphorical resonance for the world we live in, it can’t totally depart from the world as we know it (especially if it’s an alternate history set in the present.) For example: how come after a nuclear attack in Texas, the US Government staffs up the NSA with a bunch of dwarves?
Kelly is overly self-indulgent. You can just see him sitting in his office masturbating over his moleskin notebook, eyeing each napkin-caliber idea with onanistic lust, being like “I’m a genius, bro, I’m a genius,” and then cumming this garbage all up in our eyes.
And again, I was generous with this movie. More generous than the people who watched its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, who booed and walked out. This is the second time I’ve seen it, and in both instances I was pretty willing to play along and search for the point Kelly was getting at. That is until I was stopped dead in my tracks (twice) by this scene:
“I’m a pimp and pimps don’t commit suicide”? Whoops, that’s in your movie. To make matters worse, that line is repeated again at the very end of the movie. That is the last thing Richard Kelly wants you to think about as you leave the theater. Seriously? Even two Hummers fucking for NO REASON would have been better than that.
Oh, and did I mention that it has cameos from two of the worst directors of all time? Kevin Smith and Eli Roth?
Woof. Those three in a room. It’s like those apocryphal stories about young George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola hanging out in 70s Hollywood, talking about taking over the world, except instead of thinking back on what a heady, exciting time that must have been, you’re just left wondering why our country is plagued with so few snipers.
This is a pretty strong candidate for the worst movie of all time. Too long, check. Super pretentious, check. Painful to watch, check. Dialog like “we’re going to take the ATM machine with us to Mexico,” check. Midgets, check. So many wrongs do make a FAIL.
Next Week: Due to an unforeseen ruling, Crossroads has been disqualified. Instead, we will be discussing the Lindsay Lohan film, I Know Who Killed Me, which everyone should agree is a poetic substitute.