Poorly received at the Cannes Film Festival and viciously reviled by many reviewers, writer-director Richard Kelly's follow-up to DONNIE DARKO (2001) is a wildly ambitious, occasionally stunning vision of the pop apocalypse by way of David Lynch, the book of Revelation, Philip K. Dick, T.S. Eliot and Robert Aldrich's blistering adaptation of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly.
July 5, 2005, Abilene, Texas: The first of a series of co-ordinated nuclear strikes against mid-sized American cities launches a shadow WWIII. Oil prices soar and the German-based Westphalen company – headed by new-age gargoyle Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn) -- steps into the breach with a revolutionary source of hydro-electric energy called "fluid karma," which is also a powerful mind-blowing drug. The draft has been reinstated, Iraq-war veterans on offshore platforms patrol the California shoreline and cyberspace has been placed under government control via the USIDent corporation.
Popular action-movie star Boxer Santeros (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) – who's married to Madeline Frost (Mandy Moore), the daughter of powerful Republican vice-presidential candidate Senator Bobby Frost (Holmes Osborne) – was kidnapped under deeply mysterious circumstances and subsequently re-emerged in the Los Angeles area (the titular "Southland") stripped of his memory. He's now shacked up with hardcore porn princess and socially-conscious, aspiring queen of all media Krysta Kapowski (Sarah Michelle Gellar) – aka Krysta Now! – with whom he co-wrote a screenplay called "The Power," which seems to be predicting the ever-more dystopian future. Meanwhile, porn director/"international documentary filmmaker" Cyndi Pinziki (Nora Dunn) (Nora Dunn) is fomenting revolution, as are spoken word artists Dion and Dream (Wood Harris, Amy Poehler), left wing anarchist Zora Carmichaels (Cheri Oteri) and her lover, maniac cop Bart Bookman (Jon Lovitz), arms dealer Walter Mung (Christopher Lambert), who plies his wares from an ice cream truck, and identical-twin wack jobs Roland and Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott), one of whom is going to save the world. The film is narrated by Iraqi-war veteran Private Abilene (Justin Timberlake) – who gets the film's one full-fledged musical number, to the Killer's "All These Things That I've Done" and populated with the eccentric cast to end all eccentric casts: Rebekah Del Rio (of Lynchs' MULHOLLAND DR.), Janeane Garofalo as General Teena MacArthur, Justin Timberlake -- who gets the film's one full-fledged musical number -- as Private Abiline, John Larroquette as political advisor Vaughn Smallhouse, Christopher Lambert as Walter Mung, who deals weapons from an ice-cream truck, slinky Bai Ling (as Von Westphalen's dragon lady, Serpentine), Miranda Richardson as First-Lady wannabe Nana Mae Frost, POLTERGEIST's Zelda Rubinstein, and Sab Shimono as a deeply compromised Japanese premier.
And there's more… much, much more; though not as much as Cannes audiences saw – it's a good 20 minutes shorter and clarified by Abilene's annoying voice over. But enough of that. In the end, Kelly's apocalypto stylings add up to less than the sum of their parts, but along the way SOUTHLAND TALES delivers equal parts overwrought tedium and mind-bending beauty, spiked with brilliant throwaway images that more than make up for Kelly's heavy-handed hot-button pretensions.
Great? No. Unforgettable? Unquestionably. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh