Southland Tales

Southland Tales ★★★½

I have great affection for this film.

I think that's because the movie comes across as something my teenage self would have written had I been born 15 years later. Large scale conservative vs. liberal pseudo-sci-fi stories were something I daydreamed about.

But oh God, do I understand why people hate this movie. It is a mess, but it is the most entertaining mess I've encountered. People love The Room, but that movie is simply incompetent. Southland Tales is an awesome spectacle of audaciousness and honestly is far more ridiculous than any scene The Room has to offer.

Maybe people hate this because of the unbelievable amount of gall, or cheek, or balls, or whatever you want to call it that Richard Kelly displays.

He starts at Chapter IV, or if you prefer, Episode IV for god's sake. Riffing on frickin' Star Wars of all things. Or maybe he just presumes that viewers will have actually hunted down and read the first three episodes in graphic novel format. I assure you those graphic novels were not best sellers.

It is at times unimaginative and juvenile to an annoying degree. The proposition being voted on is 69. A mysterious source is called Deep Throat 2. Everyone has names straight out of erotica novels. There's animation of two cars fucking. Graphically.

He populates his cast with iconic actors from the 80s. You have Christopher Lambert, the fucking Highlander. You have Wallace Shawn, Zelda Rubinstein, John Larroquette, Curtis 'Booger' Armstrong. And then there's the various SNL alums. You have Cheri Oteri and Jon Lovitz of all people playing heavies.

Justin Timberlake is here to draw in the 18-24 crowd but he's a carved up, unbalanced soldier who sells drugs. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, who I will always love, is at the center of the story but he is one of the least confident, most unbalanced heroes around. And there's Buffy too, but Sarah Michelle Gellar is a rather vapid porn star and may be the least interesting character in the movie -- and this is a film with Bai Ling in it, as well as the previously mentioned Christopher Lambert. Sean William Scott is the other hero, and there are two of him, yet it feels at times as if he is forgotten about.

And the climax, well it takes place on a zeppelin.

For most of the film the plot is confusing at best. Kelly jumps from one subplot to another to another and the best that can be said is that they sort of coalesce at the end, but mostly that seems to be an accident. It's a true Hodge-podge of a film. There are so many quotes and nods to other works thrown in here that the movie should be annotated. Nothing is simple in Southland Tales. Everything is dialed to 11.

But in this mess is a movie that I honestly like. Maybe not 'like' like, but at least like as a friend. It has moments of utter beauty and brilliance that remind you that Kelly can shoot a movie. There are the musical moments, which stick out from the plot but honestly propel the movie forward in such a stylish way I want to watch them again and again. (So if Kelly isn't going to shoot another movie he should at least shoot some music videos.)

It's years since I first saw this movie and I still don't know how to put into words my feelings for it. Like the film they go all over the place. I tried to get my wife to watch this once. She made me stop it after 20 minutes. It was giving her a headache. I couldn't argue with that. I kind of get a headache when I think too much about it as well. But it's a goddamned entertaining one. If I am to love a bad movie, let it be this one. I'm just not sure it's all that bad.

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