Monday, July 21, 2008
A Frank Review of "Southland Tales"
I remember the wonder and excitement I felt while watching "Donnie Darko" for the first time. I wanted so much to share the movie with others, and come to understand it better through outside information and interpretation. I eventually watched the deleted scenes; which did not put me off, as they were extant; and listened to the commentary track, which was forgettable. No, what did me in was the "Director's Cut," which reedited and re-contextualized the movie with lame new effects, clearly showing the film's creator didn't understand his own creation. I have not been able to enjoy the movie since. I also saw "Domino," for which he wrote the screenplay, and of which the less said, the better.
I had a good idea what I was in for after the chilly reception "Southland Tales" received at Canne and afterwards, but still, no one can truly prepare for it. The film is stunning, profound, and exceptional. By that I mean I was stunned by Kelly's cluelessness with regard to his subject matter, found the effort profoundly stupid, and the work of all involved was exceptionally bad. It's "Springtime For Hitler," so utterly misguided as to presumably be inept by design. It's a top-down disaster, and as such best taken in with a bellyful of alcohol and a sense of humor. Lord knows no such thing can be found in the flick itself. The cast is brimming with Saturday Night Live and MadTV alumni in material dubbed comedic, but so unfunny as to make the last half hour of any given Saturday Night Live look like "The Aristocrats." The dialogue in no way seems intended to elicit humor, so the only assumption I can make is that the miscasting combined with straight lines was intended to be the source of the theoretical amusement. That experiment failed epically.
All that being said, there is no pain to be found in watching "Southland Tales." Again, the movie is so obviously without merit from the very beginning, there is never any danger of emotional investment or misleading depth. You, the viewer, know what you are watching is worthless as anything but a train wreck, and so you can just partake of rubbernecking the spectacle. You can enter the picture at any point and come to this exact conclusion before the end of any given scene. It's willfully dense, yet obvious despite itself. Your expectations are never lifted, and there's a comfort in that.
Mandy Moore is the finest actress on screen. Let that sink in for a moment. Nora Dunn is, in my estimation, next in line. Ditto. Seann William Scott-- forever to be known for variations of his Stiffler character-- plays a dual role... and is the dramatic core of the film. You read that right. "Southland Tales" is the sequel to the Darko "Director's Cut," or else Kelly is repetitive as fuck with his transcendental nonsense and related motif. Worst use of a Pixies song ever, and their best besides. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays a little bitch who thinks he's a pimp. Does that interest you? The film itself is a little bitch who thinks it's a cross between "Brazil" and "Dr. Strangelove." Only if you add "Rat Race" and severe head trauma to the mix. Make no mistake: I am smarter than this movie, you are smarter than this movie, and every intended subject of ridicule is smarter than this movie.
"Southland Tales" is at war with making a point. It has always been at war with making a point. It would like to skewer Conservatives, but a spatula is not the ideal weapon of choice. It is too broad and too yielding. The film would also bludgeon Liberals, but a pencil is too light and too narrow to provide more than mild nuisance. Unfocused and imprecise, the movie shadowboxes rather than assaults. "Southland Tales" is friends with everybody. "Southland Tales" just wants everybody to get along.
There's a short animated feature on the DVD. It would like to be "Watership Down," but it's more Down Syndrome. There is also a making-of featurette. It provides the cast and crew the opportunity to explain that either they didn't know what they were doing and just followed orders, or that they were giving orders, but clearly didn't know what they were doing. There is no commentary track, so we must assume Kelly has some due shame and awareness of his limitations. I know that isn't true, but I wish it aloud regardless.
Some will complain that the film is indecipherable, but comic book people should be able to piece everything together by the end. They should then chuckle at the expense of those who couldn't, not to disparage their intellect, but to express amusement at their gullibility. Watch it the next time you wish to feel superior to an all-star cast desperate or dumb enough to have participated. Take some small satisfaction in knowing Booger from "Revenge of the Nerds" is still available for feature films and children's birthday parties for a nominal fee. Note that I didn't even bring up the Cohen Brothers-Lite musical number with Justin Timberlake and a parade of Marilyns. God bless America, but Kelly-- enough with the Jesus talk already! No more religion as pseudo-science for you! Tell Ben Stein the same!
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