Jamie Kennedy's favorite movie review site
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 7.69%
Just Average: 10.26%
Pretty Crappy: 2.56%
Sucks: 15.38%

3 reviews, 21 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something by Rob Gonsalves

Trial of the Chicago 7, The by Rob Gonsalves

St. Elmo's Fire by Jack Sommersby

Talent for the Game by Jack Sommersby

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro by Jay Seaver

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm by Peter Sobczynski

Lupin the Third (2014) by Jay Seaver

Lupin III: The First by Jay Seaver

Caddyshack by Jack Sommersby

Over the Moon by Jay Seaver

subscribe to this feed

Southland Tales
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"Apocalypse Now"
5 stars

Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” comes into town with two big strikes already against it. For starters, there is the fact that it is Kelly’s follow-up to his 2001 debut “Donnie Darko” and as any director who makes a splash with a much-discussed first film that becomes an instant cult favorite knows, the second film, particularly if it utilizes a vastly increased budget and scope, tends to be a target for those who want to cut the hot shot down to size or to use the new film as an opportunity to re-review the previous one and let everyone know that they weren’t taken in by the hype. (For proof of this phenomenon, see Steven Soderbergh’s “Kafka” and Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats”–actually, you should see them since both are much better than their reputations might otherwise suggest.) The other thing it has going against it is that when the film made its high-profile debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, the reaction from virtually all who saw it was so virulent that it sent Kelly back into the editing room and for a while, there was real doubt as to whether the film would appear in theaters in any form.

Now, about a year and a half after making its ill-fated debut, “Southland Tales” has finally reemerged in a version that is, from what I gather, not that far removed from the one that played at Cannes–the differences allegedly include some new special effects, a re-recorded version of the narration provided by co-star Justin Timberlake, a prologue that more fully explains the film’s elaborate backstory and the elimination of about 20 minutes of footage, including an entire character that was played by Janeane Garofalo. I never saw that original version but my guess is that those who didn’t embrace it the first time around are unlikely to change their stance with this new cut. Imagine a film equally inspired by such previous tales of southern California teetering on the brink of apocalypse as “Short Cuts,” “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Blade Runner,” “Repo Man” and “Strange Days” and you might begin to get a grip on what Kelly has in store for viewers this time around. It is a strange and ungainly work that combines goofy comedy, paranoid science-fiction, sprawling melodrama, sharp social commentary and even a musical number or two into a final product that is liable to split audiences between those who embrace it as visionary masterpiece and those who dismiss it as a pretentious disaster. Personally, I lean towards the former because while I will be the first to admit that the film is uneven and that there are times when it appears that Kelly has bitten off far more than he can possibly chew, he has unquestionably given us a bold and challenging work that is alive and kicking in every frame in a way that most films these days simply aren’t.

“Southland Tales” literally kicks off with a bang as we witness camcorder footage of a 2005 Fourth of July celebration in Abeline, Texas that is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a mushroom cloud, an attack that serves as the flashpoint for World War III. While our soldiers go off to do battle overseas in the name of freedom over the next three years, those very same freedoms are being systematically stripped away on the home front in the name of “security.” America has become a virtual police state in which even interstate travel is barred unless you carry a special visa and a new program, USIDent, has been created that will give the government control of the information that flows through cyberspace. Rebelling against these intrusions is a Marxist underground that is hoping to overthrow the government by any means necessary. Meanwhile, the ongoing war has essentially cut off our oil supply and in response to that, a strange German scientist, Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn), has created an alternative energy source known as “Fluid Karma,” something that uses the movements of the perpetual-motion machine known as the ocean as its power source, that could possibly save the country from devolving into total anarchy if it works. If you are already confused, I guess I should warn you that all off this information is the background stuff laid out in the prologue and that we haven’t even gotten to the basic storylines yet.

Although the film, which takes place over July 4th weekend of 2008 right before the all-important primary election, involves an enormous number of characters and subplots, it pretty much boils down to three central characters. There is Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson, eschewing his “Rock” nickname), an action-film superstar who is married to Madeline Frost (Mandy Moore), the daughter of Senator Bobby Frost (Holmes Osborne) and wife Nana Mae (Miranda Richardson), who hopes to use their development of the USIDent program as Bobby’s ticket to the White House as the Republican vice-presidential candidate. A couple of days earlier, Boxer disappeared into the desert and while he is known to have returned to the area, no one knows where he currently is nor how he was able to cross the state lines without being checked in. It transpires that Boxer, now with a case of amnesia, is currently holed up with Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) a porn star-cum-pundit with whom he has co-written a screenplay about the end of the world that appears to have eerie parallels with what is actually going on in the real world.

It turns out that Boxer is being used as an unwitting pawn in not one, but two conspiracies by groups that are hoping to use his fame, connections and notoriety to achieve their goals. In one, Krysta falls in with a renegade pornographer (Nora Dunn) who wants to use videos of her liaisons with Boxer as a way of blackmailing Senator Frost into voting yes on a referendum that will severely curtail the powers of USIDent. At the same time, a Venice Beach-based neo-Marxist group led by Zora Charmichaels (Cheri Oteri) has devised a plan that she hopes will finally inspire a full-scale revolt against the government–she and her colleagues have kidnapped police officer Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott) and replaced him with exact double Roland Taverner (Scott again), a disturbed young man who is having some strange problems of his own (such as a mysterious delay in his mirror reflection), who will take Boxer on a drive-along (as research for his new movie role) that will end with a faked racially-based killing that will link the golden boy of the Republican Party on tape with a seemingly racist and homicidal cop. It sounds like a perfect plan until Roland and Boxer meet up with a genuine racist and homicidal cop (Jon Lovitz) who quickly transforms fiction into reality with a couple of quick shots.

This is an enormous amount of plot to digest–and I see that I have yet to mention such other key characters as the Baron’s support staff (including Beth Grant, Curtis Armstrong, Bai Ling and Zelda Rubenstein), an arms dealer (Christopher Lambert) who sells his wares from the back of an ice-cream truck, a USIDent worker (Michelle Durrett) with a pronounced crush on Boxer, a young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) who has just been drafted into the service and will do anything to avoid going to war and Pvt. Pilot Abeline (Justin Timberlake), a soldier who claim to have been part of mysterious government experiments involving fluid karma while serving overseas and who now patrols the Venice Beach area while offering a sardonic narration along the line of the one Martin Sheen delivered in “Apocalypse Now.” All of these characters and their respective storylines bounce off of each other in ways both expected (it is almost inevitable that the two incriminating Boxer tapes will get mixed up at some point) and wholly unanticipated. Everything comes to a head on July 4 as the streets of Los Angeles finally explode into chaos and revolution, a zeppelin takes most of the central characters to their respective destinies and the brand-new Fluid Karma-based power station erected off the coast appears to be inspiring some wholly unanticipated side effects. At the center of all of this is Boxer, who is still unsure of what is going on and how he fits into it and even when everything about what happened to him in the desert and how, like Donnie Darko before him, “the fate of the world depends on you” is finally explained to him, he (not to mention many viewers) is still in the dark on most of the details.

If these story details don’t seem to entirely add up to you, don’t feel too bad–I’ve seen the film twice now and I am still foggy on a few of the details (such as how USIDent can know that Boxer has returned to California but have absolutely no idea of where he could be). Depending on how you look at it, you could say that Kelly have given us either too many pieces of the puzzle or too few and unless one has the time and energy to delve into the entire multi-media backstory that he has created, including three graphic-novel prequels that detail the events chronicled in the prologue and an elaborate website. That said, I watched the film without the benefit of looking at either the graphic novels or the website and while I will admit that it plays better the second time around (the first pass requires you to absorb so much information that most will fail to pick up on the connections that become more obvious on second passes), Kelly does a very good job of juggling his balls in the air in such a way that while the average viewer may not be able to connect every dot right off the bat, the storylines are clear enough so that one can follow along with them without getting hopelessly confused (although attempts to recount the labyrinthine plotting for friends might not prove so easy). Besides, after sitting through so many movies in which every single detail is spelled out and explained at length so that no one in the audience goes home confused, I kind of appreciate a movie that has enough faith in its audience to allow them to do some of the heavy lifting on their own. (Perhaps after the tepid reception of his director’s cut of “Donnie Darko”–a fairly pointless endeavor that robbed the original version of some of its tantalizing mysteries by explaining them in pointless detail–Kelly learned the value of leaving some things unexplained.)

Besides the narrative twists and turns, there are plenty of other reasons to love and admire “Southland Tales” as well. Like the aforementioned “Blade Runner” and “Strange Days,” Kelly does an excellent job of creating a convincing view of the not-too-distant future that relies less on elaborate special effects and more on creating a distinct and unsettling mood to get the job done–the L.A. that he depicts is a scarily convincing world that is perched on the brink of physical and psychological disintegration at the hands of the privileged few while the masses are either too oblivious or too wrapped up in their own messy dramas to notice or care. There are also plenty of bits of Thomas Pynchon-style screw-loose humor strewn throughout that fit in perfectly with the film’s trippy vibe, such as the hilariously obscene car commercial that we see at one point (though we are assured that it is the version meant for broadcast in Europe) and the scene in which Boxer’s wife and girlfriend confront each other for the first time. Then there are the musical scenes that admittedly don’t forward the story in any meaningful way but which add so much texture to the proceedings that I can’t imagine the film without them. One is the music video that we see for Krysta’s top-selling pop anthem “Teen Horniness Is Not A Crime.” Another is a hair-raising rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Rebekah Del Rio, who essentially does for this film what she did for “Mulholland Drive” when she popped up for her operatic Spanish-language take on Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” The best is the moment when all the tension and pressure that has been building finally and cathartically explodes into a full-blown production number in which a beer-swilling Justin Timberlake dances and lip-synchs his way through a version of The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Do I understand or can I even attempt to explain why the scene exists in the film even in the slightest? No, but it is such a brilliant out-of-left-field moment that it becomes the haunting highlight of the entire project.

Playing the straight central roles in a film as wild as “Southland Tales” can often be a bummer for actors–all the supporting players get to be as flamboyant as they want while they are stuck in the parts that takes us from one bit of weirdness to the next. Despite that, the three leads here all do excellent jobs of carving out strong and solid performances without getting subsumed by the chaos. After seeing him in the lunkheaded likes of “Doom,” “Walking Tall” and “The Game Plan,” the presence of Dwayne Johnson in something this decidedly off the beaten path may strike some as strange but he does a surprisingly good job of pulling everything together–while films like “The Rundown” and “Be Cool” may have demonstrated that he has the kind of charisma that makes for a movie star, his performance here demonstrates that he also has the acting chops as well. Having blown most of the audience goodwill she built up over the years on the late, great “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” with a series of increasingly lazy and half-baked movies (such as “The Return,” “TMNT” and various installments of the “Grudge” and “Scooby-Doo” franchises), Sarah Michelle Gellar reminds us all why we went for her in the first place with her hilarious turn as Krysta Now–as a woman-child who combines the most craven aspects of Jenna Jameson and Oprah Winfrey in one attractively deluded package, she nails the character’s New Age-inspired brand of self-absorption so successfully that I wish that Kelly would devise a spin-off story centered entirely on her character. And while Seann William Scott has often played the doofus in the past, he brings surprising depth to his dual role as the split-in-more-ways-than-one Roland and Ronald. Among the supporting turns, Amy Poehler is funny as an unspeakably vain spoken-word poetess with an inflated sense of her position in the cultural firmament, Lou Taylor Pucci is affecting as the young kid whose desire to not go to Iraq leads him to a wholly unexpected turning point and Kevin Smith is amusing (not to mention virtually unrecognizable, which is a considerable achievement in itself) as the guy who is pulled in during the final act to finally explain what the hell is going on.

Because it is arriving with the taint of failure already on it and because there are so many excellent movies currently in release, there is a very good chance that “Southland Tales” will wind up getting ignored in its original theatrical run and only catch on with viewers once it hits DVD and the midnight movie circuit. This is the usual pattern for films that go this far off the reservation (as Richard Kelly knows from his experiences with “Donnie Darko”) and so such a reception will hardly come as a surprise, I suppose. However, this is exactly the kind of movie that fans will look at years from now and wonder “Man, why didn’t people go to see this one when they had the chance?” For once, wouldn’t you like to be the person asking that question instead of answering it? If the answer is “yes,” then seek out “Southland Tales” as soon as possible. If the answer is “no”–well, my guess is that if you were going to answer “no” to that question, you probably wouldn’t have gotten that far into this review in the first place.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16687&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/16/07 00:00:00
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2007 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2007 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2017 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/20/17 morris campbell strange but interesting 3 stars
6/11/12 Flipsider An overcomplicated farce that in the end doesn't have much to say. 3 stars
2/04/12 Ryan Marshall Hated this movie. Kelly has intriguing ideas but lacks proper execution. 1 stars
5/06/11 Laks Surrealism at it's finest. This movie made no sense, and that is what makes it so good 4 stars
1/24/11 Joe Nelson Great Directing, Acting, Story, Everything was Great. 5 stars
12/30/10 Josh I appreciate this film greatly, it is an epic, a modern epic at that 5 stars
8/13/10 Zephyr J This flick gave me brain cancer - AVOID!!! 1 stars
3/09/10 Richard Brandt Kind of like an elaborate 90's miniseries that didn't make the cut 3 stars
2/22/10 King Contra YA i like it 4 stars
1/19/10 Andrew Shearer FINALLY! Someone besides me loves this film! 5 stars
11/28/09 B Rage I like the surreal atmosphere. It's a trip, no less. 5 stars
11/27/09 John B Clever movie, worth seeing. You'll need to watch it twice to catch all the madness. 4 stars
11/12/09 Green A deliberate mess and, therefore, genius! 5 stars
8/19/09 TreeTiger 2 hours and 20 mins. of pure, unfiltered cinematic CRAP..! 1 stars
12/07/08 Lee beautiful, crazy, well written film, idiots will not like it though. 5 stars
11/23/08 Shaun Wallner This movie stinks!! 5 stars
4/09/08 Michael holy fuck, I had some hopes for this, but what a horrifying embarrassment for all concerned 1 stars
3/25/08 Charles Tatum An abominable milestone in cinematic history 1 stars
3/20/08 Jefenator The emperor's new 144-minute feature film. 2 stars
3/18/08 JJ Gimp Kelly clearly wants to be like Terry Gilliam but fails on every level. 1 stars
3/07/08 matthew well, it was ok. the plot got irritating quickly though and the casting is just bizarre 3 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  14-Nov-2007 (R)
  DVD: 18-Mar-2008



Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 
Privacy Policy | | HBS Inc. |   
All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast