As fate would have it, the sickness that felled the Queen last weekend has made its way into my immune system, leaving me snotty and sleepless and home from the day job. With cold medicine coursing through my veins, I was unable to sleep as well, so I thought I’d throw on a DVD to keep me entertained.
My choice was Southland Tales, written and directed by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) and starring Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott, Justin Timberlake, and a host of B-level actors and Saturday Night Live alumni. The DVD had been in my possession for over a year but I’d been holding off on watching until I finished its graphic novel prequel. Problem is, the Southland Tales comic book that professes to be Chapters I-III of the tale is virtually unreadable. At the very least, it’s horribly boring, which didn’t bode well for the film.
Set in an alternate 2008 where World War III has taken place and the United States government has regulated cyberspace, Southland Tales stars Johnson as Boxer Santaros, an action star with amnesia who has written an apocalyptic screenplay with porn star Krysta Now, played by Gellar. Along for the ride is Scott as a masquerading L.A. cop under the influence of homegrown terrorists.
At least I think that’s the story.
Southland Tales has had a tumultuous history. Rewrites and reshoots, a horrible reaction at Cannes 2006, and a complete burial in December 2007, when it was released in just 63 theaters in North America to both audience apathy and critical ennui. It made no money and was unceremoniously dumped onto DVD last March.
In theory, I would have seen Southland Tales had it made it to a theater in Toronto, but to the best of my knowledge it never screened here. So instead, I spent the 22 dollars on the DVD. Even with all the critical drubbings, I still had faith in Southland Tales. I loved Donnie Darko (not the director’s cut, mind you, but the one that we all first experienced on DVD), and I’m all for entertaining apocalyptic tales.
My mistake. My horrible mistake. There is virtually nothing entertaining about Southland Tales.
First of all, any film that puts Jon Lovitz, Cherie Oteri, and Amy Poehler in prime roles has immediately got it all wrong. The baggage those SNL alumni bring with them does not allow us to take them seriously. And they’re bad actors. That was some horrible casting, Mr. Kelly.
While Dwayne Johnson does decent enough work in Southland Tales, playing against type with his nevous ticks, the problem is the material he’s working with is fucking horrible. I’m pretty sure The Rock left this one off his resume when he started working with Disney. Meanwhile, Sarah Michelle Gellar, who hooked me for seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, does nothing with her underwritten and unappealing porn star character. The more Gellar does outside of Sunnydale, the more I wonder how long it will be until she tries to return.
Then there’s the convoluted storytelling. There’s a heck of a lot of “telling” throughout, thanks to narrator Timberlake, but when an audience desperately needs something explained to them, a filmmaker should know something is wrong. For all the warnings of “danger on the horizon”, I never really knew what was going on. In that regard, watching Southland Tales reminded me of how I felt as a child trying to watch David Lynch’s Dune. It’s that bad.
There are a few good things to say about Southland Tales. For all of its convoluted storytelling, the movie looks great. There’s also a quirky scene that finds Justin Timberlake lip-synching to The Killers “All The Things I’ve Done”. And the typically overbearing Sean William Scott shows himself adept at drama.
But these are just a few pluses in over two hours of excruciatingly awful minuses. In fact, by the end of Southland Tales I think I felt worse than when it started.
Southland Tales – one of the worst films I’ve ever made myself sit through. Please save yourself a few hours and never, ever, watch it.