Southland Tales

This was Richard Kelly’s follow up to Donnie Darko, and was a notorious flop upon release. I remember quite liking it, and thinking Sarah Michelle Gellar did an amazing job as Paris Hilton-eque porn star Krysta Now. I saw it again recently and unfortunately it just doesn’t really hold up, and SMG’s role is not quite as large as I’d remembered. My secret boyfriend Seann William Scott is also on hand, and good, but again, not quite as good as I remembered. Although this viewing also convinced me that the Rock should have been James Bond at a certain point.

This is a sweeping social satire that takes on pretty much everything, and also includes a quantum mechanics twist, as has become Kelly’s unfortunate “thing.” There is a company that has developed a source of boundless energy, only it is causing the Earth’s rotation to slowly shut down, which is causing space-time problems. Duane Johnson plays an actor who has vanished, lost his memory and ended up with ex porn star Krysta Now, with whom he has written a screenplay which just happens to have the same premise as what is actually happening with the energy source/Earth’s rotation. But really it’s all a framework to hang Kelly’s massive-scale social satire on, which is fine.

I personally love social satire, and am very forgiving of it being broad and even obvious. But this one starts to get so big it’s just scattered, and loses its opportunity to make strong points by just being all over the place. Not to mention that the inexplicable quantum mechanics stuff leaves a lot not to be understood and is not at all wrapped up by the ending. For example, Gellar’s character is an ex–porn star who has a reality show, fashion line, fragrances and an energy drink, as well as a single: “Teem Horniness is Not a Crime.” Funny! But… that’s about it. She’s not developed at all, gets relatively little screen time, and none of it goes anywhere. There are a lot of little splinter groups involved, like this radical feminist group with Amy Poehler involved, and it’s amusing, it just doesn’t really add up to much. When Krysta unwittingly becomes part of the radical feminist group, that should be hilarious, but the scenes unfold without any spark. Not to mention that this is only a diversion to the main action of the film, which follows Johnson as he tries to figure out who he is. Scott is on hand, but largely silent, and barely gets to do any acting, which is sad, as he had finally shown signs of breaking out from his silly American Pie roles. Mandy Moore essentially steals the film in her few scenes as Johnson’s ex-wife.

But in the end, nothing really sticks and you’re just left with a few sweeping, but not very insightful, comments about politics and society in the 2000s. There is some amusing comic work and it’s kind of fun, but it starts to turn into more and more of a drag as it becomes increasingly apparent that none of it is going to come together. An amusing and not altogether unpleasant oddity, it is unique, but I’m not sure that makes it worth watching.

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