Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Southland Tales

Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2007) [4]

This isn't quite the complete disaster that many reviews have made it out to be but it's way too messy to make me think it's any good either. A terrorist attack on American soil has turned the nation into a quasi-police state headed by a surveillance agency with ties to a vice-presidential candidate and a company producing a new form of energy called Liquid Karma. A group of "neo-Marxists" is attempting to overthrow the government by exploiting an action star with amnesia (Dwyane Johnson, or The Rock) who happens to be married to a the vice-presidential candidate's daughter. A lot of other characters come and go all leading to an ending steeped in supernatural gibberish, a la Kelly's last film, Donnie Darko. Kelly's script has so many different tangents and characters with so many stories that it creates a film that is so meandering that it's too difficult to really know what's going on. Just because the story is sprawling doesn't automatically make this a bad film. Kelly makes the film convoluted because he is trying to say too much and a lot of what he saying is complete nonsense. The main problem with this film is that Kelly often diffuses any criticism of the film by certain defense elements. The political ideology of the film is fairly half-baked, especially the neo-Marxists, whose knowledge of Marxism must not gotten beyond reading dorm room posters. Kelly compensates for this by having a character mention that these Marxists know next to nothing. Right there, I lost all respect for any political ideas the film attempts to make. Another defense mechanism is that Kelly fills the film with a cavalcade of B-list and character actors like John Laroquette, Wallace Shawn, and SNL relics like Cheri Oteri, Nora Dunn, and John Lovitz. It comes of as an ironic, wink-wink, remember this guy type of move that says don't take this film that seriously. Aside from these actors, the main performances pretty much stink, especially Sarah Michelle Gellar and The Rock. The only real credible performance, surprisingly enough, is Justin Timberlake, helped by his surreal sequence lip-synching The Killers' 'All These Things That I've Done.' It's the only real moment where the film goes beyond the story and shows some sign of craft. The ending is more confusing and sloppy than the rest of the film. In spite of this, there were never really any moments that I absolutely hated about this film. The problem is that there weren't enough moment in that I actually liked either.

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