PSA: Southland Tales (2006), or Huh?????

20 01 2009
I cannot believe this movie exists

I cannot believe this movie exists.

Welcome to another public service announcement regarding films I have already seen that you might not have. This segment brings up an interesting point I would like to address. Folks, do not forget to watch the DVDs you own. More often than not, I see people’s collections gathering dust, growing stale from lack of use. Don’t just buy a movie and watch it once. If you didn’t like a movie, or you know you’re never gonna watch a movie, give it to someone else. Like me. The fact is, I’m gonna need 340 more movies, so donations or bargain prices are greatly appreciated. Don’t get all pack-rat over that copy of The Thin Red Line you got at Target for $10: it’s still in the shrink-wrap! Don’t get all attached and weird about The Devil Wears Prada: you didn’t even like the movie that much. And what does this have to do with our current specimen, Southland Tales? Not a damn thing. Just a friendly reminder to not waste your DVDs. I’ll use them sometime this year.

Oh, boy. Where to begin… Donnie Darko was a small, ill-financed movie filmed in 2001 about a teenager who had a feeling the world was going to end. At first it tanked in theaters, barely breaking even. But then a funny thing happened. When it came out on DVD, it became a runaway sensation, a veritable cult phenomenon. Word-of-mouth spread the positive feedback like wildfire. Everyone was talking about this hip, mysterious movie about time-travel and hideous bunny rabbits. Richard Kelly, the director and writer, was hailed as a visionary, the voice of the next generation of young talented directors. And so after a quick break, and a director’s cut of his debut film, he started working on his sophomore effort. What would it be? How would it look? Would it be as grim as the dyspeptic Donnie Darko?  A mysterious website popped up that touted that it would be the biggest promotional site for a film ever made. Graphic novels were proposed and printed for the full multimedia experience. The anticipation was high. But then another funny thing happened. Time. Years went by, the website was abandoned, the graphic novels were forgotten, and the interest was drained out of the movie. Not to mention whispers of a disastrous Cannes screening of the movie and pressure from the studio to make serious cuts. By the time it came out (in just 63 measly theaters!), no one remembered or cared about Richard Kelly’s new creation. But I still cared. Oh, did I ever. Ever since the embarrassing Cannes screening, I had heard the reason that the film was being buried (and let’s face it, it was being buried) was because Kelly had gone off the deep end, and that this movie was the most insane movie-going experience to be had in years. So on March 18, 2008, I literally ran to the store to pick this DVD up to see if what everyone said about Kelly and his nightmarish celluloid child were true. Giddy with excitement, I popped the disc in the player and for the next 2+ hours I discovered in fascinated horror the answer to that quandary.

Yes, Kelly had indeed fallen off the deep end…

The plot is basically that in 2005 (THE FUTURE!) two atomic bombs fall on El Paso and Abilene, and although it’s not explained who attacked us, America wages WWIII on an unsuspecting globe. This allows the evil right-wing government to put even more shady stuff into the Patriot Act, and gives authority to a new agency called USI-dent, who make the US more authoritarian than ever. Meanwhile, three years later, with a looming energy crisis rearing its ugly head, a mysterious company called Treer has solved the problem with a seemingly endless supply of energy for the world called Fluid Karma, which is created by the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide. But something’s evil about them too. Meanwhile, an actor named Boxer Santaros with a sketchy past is being manipulated by a porn star named Krysta Now to make her a mainstream actress. There is something mysterious about Boxer as well. Meanwhile, there is a militant group called the Neo-Marxists who are railing against the authoritarian right-wing government. There is something mysterious and evil about them as well. Meanwhile, all of these plot points converge. Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile….

Are you starting to get the picture? I’m sorry if I did not explain that very well at all, but I just touched the surface. This script is a mess, a mudslide on top of a shit-farm. The story is so convoluted it’s like all of mankind’s stories and parables were thrown into a black hole and someone pulled out a handful of what was left. It’s massively confusing. The writer, also Richard Kelly, says this was an encapsulation of all of his post-9/11 feelings and it was kind of a catharsis for him. And that is fine, but there are ways to do that cohesively. If you read all the FAQ’s online and read all the graphic novels, it actually does make sense in a way (about as much sense as you want it to make, depending on how much sleuthing you want to do). But you should not have to do that with a movie. It loses its timelessness that way and you only confuse people needlessly that way. Watch this one next to the graphic novels or the internet if you’re interested.

I also didn’t talk much about the characters because there are so many and they are so disposable that it simply does not matter. And everyone is in this movie. You won’t believe the amount of celebrity that was pulled for this film. I can’t even start a list, just take my word for it. Kelly admits, perhaps as a grotesque experiment, that he cast against type for every character in the movie. Dwayne Johnson plays a wimpy guy! Seann William Scott and Jon Lovitz both play quiet badasses! Richard Kelly was cast as a director without dementia! It’s discomforting to watch every single character in a movie to play against their strong suit. And the dialogue they spout out is very shameful. I was actually blushing for people as they said lines like “I’m a pimp, and pimps don’t commit suicide!” with such conviction that they seemed almost heartfelt in the hoary netherworld Kelly had created for himself.

The technical aspects aren’t even worth mentioning. This is only Kelly’s second movie, so I’ll let up on him on this point, but the shots are very plain and almost amateurish. The music is good. Quite good. Kelly has good taste in music, and if I were buying his i-Pod I might tell him to keep his old songs on there instead of erasing the drive for me. But that’s one of the few compliments I can muster up.

This is a terrible movie, and I could go on about all the things that don’t make sense and all the things that suck, but I don’t really want to. Because I love it. I LOVE THIS MOVIE! It is so insane and ridiculous and smugly stupid that I get a smile every time I think about this film. It is an epic, massive failure that is so completely shameful for everyone involved that I ended up with either a mild form of dysentery or a soft spot for this film. If you love flops, unintentional humor, and actors shaming themselves, this is THE film for you. Watch this with friends. It is good for what it is, which is psychotic. But for all you regular folk who like their movies to make sense and be good and everything, I solemnly give this big, dumb animal 2 1/2 shameful Cannes Premieres out of 10. Watch it at your own risk!

See you tomorrow, where we go in for our first spatter comedy (I know, why haven’t I done one yet?) called Bad Taste. Until then!!!