Southland Tales
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Richard Kelly
with Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cheri Oteri, Miranda Richardson, Holmes Osborne, John Larroquette, Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Beth Grant, Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, Lou Taylor Pucci, Mandy Moore, Amy Poehler
release US 14.Nov.07, UK 7.Dec.07
07/US Universal 2h25
Southland Tales
Who am I: Gellar and Johnson

scott timberlake richardson


Southland Tales It's taken 18 months for Kelly to re-edit his Donnie Darko follow-up after its controversial premiere at Cannes in 2006. This revised version isn't too difficult to follow, although it is all over the place.

Following a nuclear attack on Texas, actor Boxer (Johnson) vanished and then reappeared a few days later suffering from amnesia. He's left his wife (Moore) and holed up with a former porn-star (Gellar), who's secretly working with the neo-Marxist underground to topple the repressive US government. Their plan includes a pair of cop/revolutionary twins (Scott) and some brazen rebels (Oteri, Dunn, Poehler). Meanwhile, politicians (Richardson, Osborne, Larroquette) are working with a mad scientist (Shawn) to create a new energy supply, and everyone's being watched by an Iraq war veteran (Timberlake).

There's enough happening here to fuel an entire TV series, with melodramatic excesses, wild mood swings and sitcom-style slapstick. It's far too much plot for a feature, so the story lurches without quite enough connective material. And it makes the eclectic bunch of characters feel like they've converged from a handful of different films. This adds up to a big, bold moviemaking experiment that's at times fascinating, wonderful, bewildering and infuriating. Some of the comical moments are genuinely hilarious, while some emotional scenes are truly wrenching.

There's also some gripping action and eye-catching effects, not to mention constant references to current political events, such as an oppressive internet spying system, which the film says came through the Patriot Act. But the film is a bundle of wacky characters, plots and counterplots that never quite add up to anything meaningful. Most performances are over the top, comedy-sketch style, although Timberlake and Scott create surprisingly involving roles.

In other words, there's no firm sense of direction, which is a problem in a film this fragmented--even if the fragments are rather a lot of fun. It plays out like a pastiche of Dallas by way of David Lynch, with a bit of Austin Powers thrown in. And as it counts down to a major cataclysm, complete with a rift in space/time, the overall story strains for emotion but is just too goofy to generate any. Ah well, never mind: "Have a nice apocalypse!"

cert 15 themes, language, violence, innuendo 30.Oct.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall