Southland Tales (2007) Reviewed
This overly-ambitious movie from the writer-director of Donnie Darko will leave you more puzzled than entertained. Despite an able ensemble cast and a whole lot of unique imagery, ST is simply too much story, too much existential philosophy and ultimately, too much movie. The dream-like near-future narrative presents us with a handful of days’ events that eventually lead to the end of the world. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is pretty good as a movie action hero who wakes up in the desert with amnesia. He’s taken in and manipulated by Sarah Michelle Gellar’s good-hearted porn star with reality-show ambitions (Krystal Now — great name). He’s eventually stricken with the realization that a screenplay he’s written with Krystal, about the end of the world, is coming true. His life dramatically intersects with Sean William Scott (playing twins) and Justin Timberlake (our mysterious narrator). Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Poltergeist midget, Zelda Rubenstein and Curtis “Booger” Armstrong are members of a science-based end-of-the-world cult who (unlike us) know what’s up. Kelly’s epic grandeur on display reminded me of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, but far less coherent and much more surreal. There’s a great musical number, a finale aboard a mega-zeplin, and tons of great ideas. Too many in fact and we’re left with a collection of visionary moments rather than a movie. Is Southland Tales bad? Not exactly. If nothing else it is an interesting case-study in cinematic philisophical excess. There’s enough going on to keep us engaged (even at a 144-minute running time), but when it’s over you’ll be wondering what in the hell just happened. The outstandingly eccentric collection of actors that make up ST‘s bizarre ensemble (which earn it an extra half star at least) include Miranda Richardson, Jon Lovitz(!), Mandy Moore, John Larroquette(!), Christopher Lambert(!), Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler. There’s a fine line between ambition and pretentiousness and Kelly seems to be walking it carefully. ST never got the wide-release Sony Pictures had originally planned, and that kinda’ makes sense. I suspect time will allow ST to be better appreciated much like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, with which it has a great deal in common.