By: Andrew Ward (Five Beers) –
I had high hopes for Southland Tales going into it. Mainly because Richard Kelly is the writer and director of one of my favorite films, Donnie Darko. What made Donnie Darko so great was its detailed story that showed the emotion of its characters while interweaving incredible action that led to a thought-provoking ending. While Kelly’s next directorial/writing endeavor tried to do the same it failed on various levels.
I would love to give a quick synopsis of the film but in reality there’s way too much to fit into a paragraph or two. Basically, two nukes go off inTexas, we go into World War III, and need a new energy source that comes from the ocean. This all ties into the fact that the world is going to end and every actor who had free time inHollywoodcame along to tell the story.
Bai Ling’s in it too: Not an actual scene from the movie, but not too far off
Credit deserves to be given to Kelly for not making the same run-of-the-mill sci-fi/end of the world film. It’s clear he has ambition and wants to create films that make the audience think while being stunned from the visuals. The problem is Kelly wants to flex every literary muscle he knows ranging from his knowledge of sci-fi to the Bible and Marxist literature at the same time. If he had spaced these elements out into one or two more films they could have been picked up better. Instead, they all overlap and what is supposed to be a deep script is really an assortment of loosely tied references that fall short of its goal.
Seriously, it felt like everyone on the up and coming part of their career met with everyone on the down turn of their careers and decided this would be the best film to portray their talents (or their last dying attempts at a mainstreamHollywoodcareer). Dwayne Johnson is the driving figure in this about an action movie star who was kidnapped and returned toHollywoodwith amnesia and forgetting his wife (Mandy Moore) who has family connections in the White House. Johnson is rough around the edges in this still and isn’t the polished action and family film star he has carved his niche into just yet. Even more so the problem is, after Johnson the assortment of actors in this film is overloaded and you spend most of your time waiting for the next cameo to come in.
What really makes these choices bad is that the wrong ones end up leading the story. When Cheri Oteri and John Lovitz are getting more screen time than an up and coming Amy Poehler there is something wrong. On top of that, these characters are outlandish to the point that it overshoots irony and lands in the “what the hell is Wallace Shawn wearing” category.
I’m not one for spoiling films but it’s really coming to be that if you’ve seen one film by Richard Kelly you’ve seen them all. End of the world, time continuum, blah blah blah. If Kelly’s aim is to be a top sci-fi/futuristic director than he needs to mix it up a bit. The reason why I was so excited to see Southland Tales after Donnie Darko was that he made the end of the world genre look inventive again. From the trailers it wasn’t so certain as to what Southland was about except it was the end of the world, again. Kelly claims it was a take on the Book of Revelation and the rise of evangelicals in theUS, but in the end it is just about that, the end. It’s time for Kelly to retire this motif and move on.
“Hey, I’m Richard Kelly. I’m deep and shit. I’m going to make another end of the world movie now.”
I will give credit to the film’s visuals. Kelly used a polished, futuristic look. Southland Tales showed the stereotypical “future” that is envisioned in many films of the genre, but it is mixed with the dark aspect that came from Donnie Darko. These two aspects create an interesting style that does well to paint the scenery of the story. Add that with some fun drug induced scenes (especially one involving The Killers and Justin Timberlake) that make the film salvageable on a fun level, if not a coherent one.
Some films need to be seen more than once to understand it all. For example Inception could fall under this label. A TV show like Lost could be the same. Some argue that Southland Tales should be put in the category. But it should really be listed in the category that more relates to the mindset of a smart thirteen year old. The thirteen year old has newfound knowledge of a lot of subjects that aren’t fully hashed out and since they know all these facts they jam it all into the first essay the can remotely attach it to. In the end they make a summary paragraph to drive the message home. Sure, it makes some sense if you read it a few times but it lacks execution and should’ve been broken up into a series of essays or some of it just shouldn’t be mentioned at all. Richard Kelly, use this analogy with your ideas on cloning.
In the end Southland Tales isn’t terrible. It’s that it tried too hard. It tried to be deep, funny, futuristic, dark, satirical and thought provoking all at once. In moments it hit all of these levels but what made Donnie Darko so good was what Southland lacked. It didn’t try too hard, it didn’t cram in characters and dialogue just to add another unnecessary aspect to the film, and it made the audience think without being outlandishly abstract. Unfortunately, this seems to be the beginning of the tale spin of Kelly’s career. The Box is a whole other story of bad films. But I can’t talk bad about that one because I was in a National Lampoon’s movie with the son.
Yeah, I worked with him for a day. See, more unnecessary knowledge. Take note Richard Kelly. Please.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every time you get confused by a plot turn
Take a Drink: for every terrible costume decision
Drink a Shot: for every random cameo