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Southlandtalessm.jpg“It’s a comedic spin on the apocalypse, as it should occur in the great city of Los Angeles.” So says writer-director Richard Kelly (of “Donnie Darko” fame) about his latest film, “Southland Tales.”
But viewer beware! “Comedic” implies laughter and “apocalypse” implies a connection to the last book of the New Testament, neither of which this film provides. The end of the world need not be Biblically-based, of course, but the film was inspired by Kelly’s obsession with all things apocalyptic including the Book of Revelations (his frequent use of the plural a common mistake) and his discovery of the fact that 59% of fundamentalist Americans think we are already living in the end times.
The problem with this movie is that it just doesn’t make any sense. Period. “Southland Tales” is to coherent storytelling as the Taliban is to “Up with People.” I actually scribbled in my notes: “Give me something to hang my hat on!” It never happened.
In this futuristic vision of a 2008 Los Angeles, the Feds have seized control of the internet after terrorists managed to detonate a nuclear bomb in an unsuspecting Texas town; a German scientist and his team who have harnessed much-needed energy from the waves of the Pacific run around in laughable B-movie sci-fi costumes; a group of neo-Marxists plot and kidnap and cuss a lot…and then it all gets a little fuzzy.


I do vaguely recall that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a movie star with amnesia, Seann William Scott plays twins who have never met and Sarah Michelle Gellar is a porn star-cum-entrepreneur with some funny lines. Add the amazing ensemble of Justin Timberlake, Mandy Moore, Miranda Richardson, Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, John Larroquette and Zelda Rubinstein into the mix, drain every ounce of personality or humor out of their performances…and you have the recipe for one disappointed reviewer.
Cheri Oteri is the only actor who escapes relatively unscathed, which I credit to the fact that her zany brand of humor was the only breath of familiarity for me in this flick. Maybe I should have read the three graphic novels that serve as the prequel to this film? Nah, I’ll leave that to the biggest of “Donnie Darko” fans.
One issue I had while watching the movie is that 2008 starts in two months, yet the Los Angeles up on the screen looked nothing like the city I had just driven through to get to the screening. Imagine George Orwell writing 1984…in 1983.
I’m hardly a prude when it comes to foul language or sexual dialogue, but the majority of its usage in the film seemed unmotivated and gratuitous, as if Kelly had just moved out of his parents’ house and wanted to assert his independence by carpet-F-bombing.
If you’re a Bible-toting literalist who answers the doorbell hoping to be met by the four horsemen, I’d stick with the Left Behind book series for entertainment. The only reference to God you’ll likely find in this apocalypse-pitched film is in the first half of a commandment-breaking curse word.
Do I have anything positive to say about this movie? I applaud Richard Kelly for getting his vision up on the screen. “This is the first time I can really say that the film is finished to my absolute satisfaction.” How often do we hear filmmakers say that? It’s completely his vision and his film (as the studio and cast are quick to point out)…so this is all just a difference in opinion.
Confused cast. Confused viewer. Crystal clear review.
–Written by Todd Havens

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