Southland Tales (2006)
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Review Date: November 19, 2007
Director: Richard Kelly
Writer: Richard Kelly
Producers: Bo Hyde, Sean McKittrick, Kendall Morgan, Matthew Rhodes
The Rock as Boxer
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Krysta
Seann William Scott as Roland
This might be the hardest plot outline that I’ve ever had to write, but let’s just say that the film is about a post-apocalyptic California, after Texas has been nuked. A big-time movie star has amnesia and a porn actress is hooking up with him for her own purposes, while an underground of neo-fascists are attempting to blackmail a Senator who is running for the Presidency. I think. A whole lot of other stuff is also tossed into the mix, including the kitchen sink, but very little of it makes much sense. An incomprehensible flick ensues.
As seen at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival

Wow! Where do I begin describing the unmitigated disaster that is Richard Kelly’s highly anticipated follow-up to his cult hit DONNIE DARKO without turning this into a 10-paragraph rant about how pissed I am that Kelly took his obvious smarts and used it for his own purposes, while thinking very little about a little something called “the audience”. This film is an incoherent, uninteresting pile of pretentious lines, time-travel and dual personality innuendos, one-dimensional characters—most of whom I never really understood within the big picture of the movie – mixed with science-fiction notions (although the film is only set two years from now, 2008…huh??) and a whole lot of garbage politics, rebel groups, Neo-Marxist factions, the Iraq war, a dumbass porn star who wants to blackmail a $20 million-a-picture movie star and a whole heap of other shit that neither you or I ultimately will care about. Unfortunately for me, I really wanted to like this movie, as I admired what Kelly did with DARKO and I’m always up for any flick with ambition, but even I couldn’t take it anymore as scene after scene just made no sense and furthermore, continued to propagate the overly complex (or just plain incoherent) plotline filled with way too many characters, ideas, double-personalities and crappy narration (this just made things worse).

I really don’t mind when I don’t understand where a film is going after its first 20 minutes, or even 40 minutes, but if the 1-hour mark has passed and the movie is just getting more and more complex, and the 1hour and 30 mark hits and still, not much of the movie makes any sense, believe you me when I say that I too wanted to bolt from the theater as many people were doing during my screening. David Lynch earned the right to be fucked up…Kelly jumped into it headfirst with his second picture and it just doesn’t work. Slapping midgets into scenes, weird ladies with goofy voices talking shit about something or another (the always-fun Zelda Rubinstein), women asking to suck men’s dicks for no reason, or zapping them in the crotch with a taser, well…it all just went a little too far and with way too little explanation. But, I believed in Kelly still, and hoped that the film’s finale would “bring it all together”, but even then, things never really concretized, and when a 2-hour and 40-minute movie feels like a 4-hour movie (!!), you know you’re doing something very, very wrong! Add that to an exhaustive cast housing at least 5 ex-cast members from “Saturday Night Live”, as well as cameos from peeps like Kevin Smith, Eli Roth and Christophe Lambert, and you just wonder if Kelly was making this as a home-movie for him and his weed buddies, or if he actually thought about it making any sense to anyone in the audience.

I read in an interview that Kelly said that he thought people needed to see his film twice in order to unlock the “puzzle”, but here’s the problem: I don’t want to see your shit movie twice, dude…it sucks!! Furthermore, it was hard enough getting through the first screening because the characters were all dumbasses, the plot incoherent, the scenes jumbled and many a line, pretentious. The only way to “save this movie”, in my opinion, is to either sell it as a “bomb” (“See the movie that everyone said sucks the big one!!”) or cut about an hour from it, remove the stupid narration stuff and a slew of extraneous characters, and start the movie off with a little title intro, explaining a little of what the shit is happening in the movie. I watched it all and I still don’t even know what the rest of the world was like, if places like NY still existed or where the F the President was the whole time. Very badly constructed. But blaming only Kelly is too simplistic. The man, at the very least, has to be respected for attempting something “out there” and “different”, but the producers, the collaborators, the people who put money into a movie expecting it to either “entertain” or “inform” an audience so that they can make some money back…what the hell were they thinking??? Didn’t they read this incoherent script or check the dailies?

And if you think you’re as “intelligent” or “deep” as Kelly as to understand this movie, more power to you and yours, my friend, because I love unraveling shit and I wanted to saw my nuts off about halfway through this picture. The film does however get 3 points from me for 1) its awesome soundtrack 2) its fun actors for the most part and 3) its ambition. The film’s score and songs were really awesome, no matter how bad the film. I especially enjoyed the scene in which Timberlake’s character sang “All These Things That I've Done”, which is ironic since that’s one of the sequences that can easily be excised from the movie without losing anything from its over-plotted storyline. Despite his one-dimensionality, The Rock was also great as the lead, as was Timberlake (although his character could actually be cut altogether), and Mandy Moore – but mostly because she looked ultra-hot and was bitchy at the same time. Turned me on. Finally, I dig and respect the ambition of this movie, but honestly, it doesn’t even come together in any miniscule way and ultimately just pissed me off more than anything. People who hate each other suddenly making out with each other. The end of the world leading Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character to dance all of a sudden, or a small baby’s constipation apparently leading to a fart that would blow up the world. None of it made much sense at the time, and even less sense now that I think about it.

In fact, if any of you have seen BACK TO THE FUTURE 2, you can basically take that movie, double the confusion, add a bunch of pretension, quadruple the number of characters and imagine it being about three times as long, and you’ll get a roundabout idea of what SOUTHLAND TALES is all about. Which incidentally, is not a musical, as per some earlier rumors. That said, if the film was supposed to be a “satire”, I must’ve missed out on any of the actual “comedy” as well. In the end though, I really do hope that Kelly can “save it”, but I really doubt it, as its greatest key to comprehension is likely to be the ingestion of a whole bunch of weed before your viewing, and I’m pretty sure the studio won’t want to market it that way. Then again…? Note: Rent STRANGE DAYS instead…a much, much better version of a similar topic that actually works as a film, is not simplistic by any means and makes sense to boot!
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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