November 21, 2007

Movie Review: Southland Tales

If you want to see this movie, if you want to truly experience Southland Tales for all it is worth, do not read this review. For that matter, do not read any review. It is not that I include spoilers or intend to spoil the film for anyone, but there is no way to do it justice in words. Seriously, Richard Kelly's sophomore outing is filled with so much information and is presented with such sheer enthusiasm and ambition that it would be best to experience and react to the material in as raw a form as possible. No, I don't want you to skip reading this but Southland Tales is just that kind of movie that is best to enter with no preconceived notions aside from your own pent up anxieties.

Still with me? Okay, you have chosen to venture into my reactions to Southland Tales, a film so chock full of content that it may require, no, demand multiple viewings in order to properly digest what is there. That said, upon my lowly single viewing I have to say that this movie is nearly incomprehensible. Scenes begin and end with little relation to what goes on before and after. Many sequences would go by and leave me absolutely dumbfounded by what I had seen. When the film ended and I left the theater, I could not help but question what I just saw. Was it a stroke of genius? Was it some glorious disaster? Is it a misunderstood potential classic? Perhaps it was just a plain old run of the mill bad movie? I am tempted to go with glorious disaster.

Now, I do not require my films to be spoon-fed to me. I do not require a straightforward narrative that gets wrapped up with a nice little bow upon its conclusion. To take it a step further, I don't even need to understand the movie in order to like. Take a look at films like Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, heck, even take Kelly's debut Donnie Darko, all films that take a little while to crack, if that is even possible. However, when it comes to Southland Tales it feels like a mess. It is a tough film to wrap your mind around, though I am not sure it is actually worth the time.

While I left with a question on my mind and a mocking smirk on my face, the more distance that grows between the credit roll and the time I sat down to write this, I have to wonder if my reaction was made in haste without enough afterthought. What I initially thought was a complete mess is not becoming any clearer, but I am thinking that there may be more to it than meets the eye. In this regard, I suspect it will become something of a cult hit, as fans will undoubtedly discuss the symbolism and hidden meanings that may or may not be there.

The story is set in the near future, 2008 to be exact. We open with an expositional sequence that attempts to set the stage. In the Fall of 2006 there was a nuclear strike within the boundaries of Texas. This signaled a change in the nation, interstate travel is restricted, and the whole makeup of the country is changing and on the verge of collapse. The right wing government is being opposed by a left wing revolution brewing in Southern California.

A movie star, named Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) is kidnapped, found in the desert, has a case of amnesia, and is shacked up with a porn star named Krista Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Krista is seeking to break free of her porn star trappings by releasing a pop album and setting her sights on reality television. Meanwhile, another amnesiac. Roland Tavener (Seann William Scott), is being used by the left wing group (headed by SNL's Cheri Oteri) to replace his twin brother, Roland (the names may be reversed, I can't remember which was which), a police officer. Then there is Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn), with his entourage featuring John Larroquette and Bai Ling, who has developed a form of perpetual motion energy, a project which has culminated in the launch of a mega-zeppelin.

You know what? Forget it. I cannot even begin to describe what is going on in this movie. It defies logic. Any attempt to describe the plot would likely take longer than the near two and a half hour runtime of the movie and still come nowhere near penetrating the impenetrable labyrinthine plot. Again, I am sure that multiple viewings will allow the bigger picture to become clear. The problem is whether or not you will want to revisit the Southland. I think I do, but not out of any true desire to decipher, rather to once again enjoy the camp elements. There is so much inexplicable humor, lines that make no sense, characters that seem out of place, and actions that defy logical explanation.

Southland Tales is an incredibly ambitious project. The problem is that it is too ambitious and the end result is a mangled mess, and this is the re-edited, shortened version created by Kelly following the disastrous debut at the 2006 Cannes festival. That version ran 160 minutes long and when it ended, was greeted by a chorus of boos. So, 16 minutes shorter and a year later a new version has descended upon the screen.

I cannot offer any great praise, but I would like to offer some praise to two of the individuals involved. First is Dwayne Johnson. His character is actually compelling and gives another look at his charisma, talent, and potential. He is the one character that I really liked and I hope that he gets the attention he deserves for other projects. The other is Richard Kelly. This guy has vision; he has obvious talent and likes to take the road less traveled. I just wish that he finds a collaborator who will focus his talents. It is clear that he has what it takes to be a great director and there is a good chance that he could develop into one, he just needs to be harnessed and focused.

Bottomline. I do not think that Southland Tales is a good movie. It is a miscalculation made by someone with the best of intentions. I cannot recommend the movie as really being worth watching. At the same time I have to recommend it, if only because of how ridiculous it is, some of the dialogue is laugh out loud hilarious. See it. Please. It may not be a good movie, but it is completely entertaining.



Post a Comment