Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Curtis Armstrong, Nora Dunn, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Lambert, John Larroquette, Bai Ling, Jon Lovitz, Mandy Moore, Cheri Oteri, Miranda Richardson, Will Sasso, Seann William Scott, Wallace Shawn, Kevin Smith, Justin Timberlake, Carlos Amezcua, Robert Benz, Todd Berger, Joe Campana, Chris Andrew Ciulla, Rebekah Del Rio, Aaron Dillar, Shari Dunn, Michele Durrett, Jon Falcone, Leila Feinstein, Jaret Gardiner, Beth Grant, Wood Harris, Shannon Holmes, Katherine Kendall, Jinah Kim, Gianna Luchini, Abbey McBride, Mike Nielsen, Holmes Osborne, Amy Poehler, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jill Ritchie, Kevin Robertson, Zelda Rubinstein, Sab Shimono, Phil Sternberg, Lisa K. Wyatt
Written by: Richard Kelly
Directed by: Richard Kelly
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence, sexual material and some drug content
Running Time: 144
Date: 05/21/2006

Southland Tales (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'South' Specific

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After a disastrous screening at Cannes (of an unfinished print), Richard Kelly's bruised and battered follow-up to his cult classic Donnie Darko (2001) sat shelved for over a year. It finally emerges this week into theaters. Southland Tales resembles nothing less than a vintage Godard, with a brainstorm full of ideas roiling and lurching and looking for purchase.

It would be futile to describe the plot, but it takes place in the future, after terrorists drop a nuclear bomb on Texas. The conservatives in power set up an unprecedented series of surveillance, and radical, left-wing underground groups set out to unseat their leaders. It also has something to do with a wormhole in the time/space continuum and doppelgangers. Characters seem to have different motivations or alliances depending on which scene they're in. But damned if it isn't fascinating and often funny.

Dwayne Johnson (formerly "The Rock") plays Boxer Santaros, a movie star with amnesia who -- I think -- is the key to the whole magilla. When he gets nervous, he twitches his fingers like Stan Laurel, which can be alternately hilarious or annoying. Boxer has co-written a script with a porn star, Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), that foretells the coming apocalypse (I think).

For some reason, lots of former "Saturday Night Live" stars turn up, as well as familiar faces from 1980s cult films. Seann William Scott plays two roles, Bai Ling slinks around and smokes a lot and Wallace Shawn has a funny hairstyle. There's a kind of musical sequence, lots of computer graphics and a giant toilet.

I chose to watch it like I would watch one of Godard's stranger films, like Weekend, just taking one small concept at a time, and forgetting the big picture (if there is one). At minimum, I've got to give it some credit for trying to juggle several ideas, when most movies don't have any.

Sony's 2008 DVD release is fairly low-key, with no commentary track, but an above average making-of featurette, "USIDent TV: Surveilling the Southland." The only other featurette is a cartoon, the very preachy, low-tech This Is the Way the World Ends. I wonder if this bizarre movie will pick up a cult following?

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