Don’t ever watch this film. This film is heinously bad. Richard Kelly, director of cult classic Donnie Darko who also directs this filmic war crime, Southland Tales, should write a check to make up for the time wasted by everybody who sat through this bloated, vapid, overwritten, overacted, underproduced yet overproduced, hackery. If you want an experience akin to this movie, jump into a saguaro cactus while stark-naked and then watch this film. Don’t take a single cactus spine out of yourself while watching it. This is essential to the experience.
That said, please watch this movie. It is a sprawling prescient masterwork of sci-fi, a post-modern genre deconstruction. A Vonnegutian, Pynchon-like pastiche. A masterpiece of nanar. So poorly made and utterly incoherent that it’s brilliant.
What is there to say about Southland Tales and how does one enjoy it? You can get hopped up on cold medicine and watch it every week like this blogger, or you can hate it like almost every reviewer to ever view it, or you can nominate it for the Palme d’Or which is just what the Cannes film festival did in 2006. You may be wondering at this point, what the hell is this movie? To be brief, it’s a sci-fi something-or-other set in the Southland (California) about Boxer Santeros (Dwayne Johnson) who has ties to the turbo-future-dystopian Republican party which is funding research on a magical-ocean-space-juice-drug-power source that can allow people to travel through time, be telepathically linked to each other and talk to God. Neo-Marxists cut off people thumbs, evil Wallace Shawn with a spit curl is a “Wizard Baron,” who controls the magic space juice and is working on a Mega-Zeppelin that is eventually shot down by a man wearing a doo-rag on top of a floating ice-cream truck that is floating because Seann William Scott is shaking his clone’s hand, who is not his clone, but is actually himself from sixty-nine minutes in the past. The world is also ending in fifteen different ways, all while being narrated by Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake) who sits in a sniper nest reading the Book of Revelations and randomly breaks out into musical numbers. Also, watch this film if you want to hear Dwayne Johnson, as a lovable, charismatic lunk, with a porcelain smile, say “The prophecy of Jericho Kane foretells that a thermonuclear baby fart will trigger the apocalypse.”
This is not a movie I’d usually review, but since it is such a marvelous fastidiously arranged mess, I felt compelled to. Every half-baked idea has a glimmer, every scene that fizzles out in the dust has a smidgen of promise. All the stilted dialogue and Lynchian humor has moments of cleverness. Overall though, this movie is a fascinating mess, showing that Donnie Darko was truly a fluke and that Richard Kelly, when left to his own devices, and with nobody to pare down his vision, will stuff every single decent sci-fi idea he has into a strange, tonally switch-hitting film. It’s like a really excellent garbage fire. It provides warmth but every once in a while you remember to breathe through your nose and get a whiff of burning, career-killing trash. That said, it’s hilarious, intentionally or not. It’s a party film through and through, although it tries desperately to take itself seriously in some moments, showing us a crazy jingoist United States that is supposed to biting and satirical. Instead it just feels ham-handed. From sheerly a movie-making standpoint, it is horrific. The cinematography and acting is cringe-worthy. The CGI looks straight out of a PS2 game despite the film being made fairly recently. Low-res photos act as backdrops, explosions are laughable, especially the Mega-Zeppelin exploding, and really horrid, ugly green-screen is used in many shots to key in sheeny, textureless backdrops. However, this film is a great time, something one should see just to witness a sheer cinematic disaster that somehow still remains fun. You know a movie is odd if its recurring lines that work their way into the plot are “Pimps don’t commit suicide” and “Nobody rocks the co*k like Krysta Now.” Also, as a supplement to your adventures in the Southland, here’s a script for the supposed sequel as well as the “ song” Sarah Michelle Gellar made for this film. Also, if you’re a fan of milquetoast music, you might know Moby, who contributed the score to this salmagundi of ideas called Southland Tales. All in all, it’s downright loopy. Watch it with your thumb poised above the fast-forward button.
And yes, that is Kevin Smith with horrible make-up
Also, this film isn’t black and white. I slapped black and white on the stills to make this movie look more like the other films I’ve reviewed as well as making it look kind of art-house.
Words by Luca Foggini. Images by Richard Kelly and Steven Poster.