Southland Tales (2007)
My Rating: **.5
Director Richard Kelly’s follow-up to 2001’s surprisingly popular DONNIE DARKO is a sprawling dystopian satire featuring an all-star cast and a storyline that splinters off into strange and unexpected places. The film begins with a nuclear explosion in Texas, which sparks a full-scale war between the U.S., the Middle East, and North Korea.
Kelly’s central character is action-movie star Boxer Santaros (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), who is suffering from a bout of amnesia upon returning from the desert. His reasons for being in the desert are hazy, but he’s hooked up with porn star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and together they have written a screenplay about the end of the world. Santaros tries to prepare for the film by taking a ride with a cop named Taverner (Sean William Scott). But the cop is actually Taverner’s twin brother, who is working for a shadowy group of neo-Marxists who are trying to overthrow the government.
Meanwhile, a brilliant scientist (Wallace Shawn) unveils an incredible new energy source, the end of the world as predicted by the Book of Revelations draws ever closer, and Justin Timberlake (who plays an Iraqi war veteran) provides a voiceover that fills in some of the gaps. As the film builds to its explosive climax, the reasons for Santaros’s time in the desert become clear, and the various strands of the plot are brilliantly woven together. SOUTHLAND TALES is packed with ideas, tangents, song-lyrics-as-dialogue (in particular, “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction), cameos from established stars, and plenty of references to the post-9/11 political landscape. Kelly’s film is bursting with imagination, and it will undoubtedly need multiple viewings for everything to sink in. Comparisons to films as varied as Richard Linklater’s A SCANNER DARKLY and David Lynch’s DUNE are valid, but Kelly’s movie inhabits a wonderful world of its own, and is one of 2007’s most unique and inspiring pieces of filmmaking.