Southland Tales, 2006.
Directed by Richard Kelly.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, Christopher Lambert, John Larroquette, Lou Taylor Pucci, Justin Timberlake, and Miranda Richardson.
Director Richard Kelly channels Tarantino and Lynch with this satirical take on America and all that dwell within.
You’ve got to hand it to the wizards at Arrow Video for their sense of timing on this one, considering the social and political upheaval witnessed in the US over the past couple of months. Southland Tales is a satirical take on American life from Richard Kelly, the filmmaker who touched a nerve with audiences with the dark cult classic Donnie Darko back in 2001, and being made in 2006 during the final years of the Bush administration you can bet there are a fair few targets for Kelly to take aim at given that quite a lot of things happened in the time between those two movies being released.
In fact, there are too many targets for the director to successfully have a swipe at as Southland Tales is a mess, and too much of a mess (and a chore) to sit through and note which targets he hits with any real punching power. Raging against the machines of political corruption, reality television and the vacuous ‘stars’ it produces, police brutality, racism and Big Brother always watching you is nothing new, and watching it in the context of 2006 it felt that flagging it up was something of a moot point; watching it in 2021, when the satire has become the norm, means the deliberate comedy in Richard Kelly’s script feels redundant and the most laughable elements are unintentional, such as Dwayne Johnson’s ‘acting’ and an over-reliance on Paul Verhoeven-style news flashes to provide exposition that ultimately feel like the between-level scenes from a PS2 game.
But it is exposition that is very much needed to try and keep up with events as the movie attempts to unravel a story about an amnesiac action star named Boxer Santaros (Johnson), a porn star played by Sarah Michelle Gellar (which in any other movie would be a plus point) and Stifler (yes, the actor is Seann William Scott but he’ll always be Stifler) as a cop whose lives all intertwine during the anniversary of a bomb going off in Texas, something about World War III, nonsensical dialogue that doesn’t comes down to nothing more than sound bites and Justin Timberlake as a sniper – no, really.
That is about as much as a plot rundown as you could hope to get as Southland Tales doesn’t actually have a plot, a clearly defined character we want to follow or any sense of structure as Richard Kelly tries to let us know that the American government aren’t the nicest or most trustworthy of people, which is the movie equivalent of the punk paradox – a band with little talent and no money telling their audience that they too have little talent and no money; at first it seems exciting that someone knows and can relate but after being told the same thing so many times it starts to get old very quickly, and during a period when every filmmaker and their crew was churning out thinly disguised metaphors for the war on terror and America’s treatment of others, throwing together a string of vignettes that hammer home the obvious message in ways that make little sense however you try and interpret them feels at best like a misfire and at worst, lazy.
Richard Kelly obviously has a vision, and ambitious it may be, but for all the goodwill that Donnie Darko brought him, being weird for the sake of it does not make him David Lynch and casting big name actors in an ensemble cast delivering clipped dialogue does not make him Quentin Tarantino. When Southland Tales premiered at Cannes it was received very poorly and so for its general release 15 minutes was taken out of it. In all honesty, it doesn’t make any difference as 145 minutes for the shorter cut is still way too long but Arrow Video have helpfully included both versions for you to consider, although the booing that echoed through the screens at Cannes is an option that isn’t included on the disc but feel free to recreate it in the privacy of your own home to get the full effect.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★/ Movie: ★