This is a hard film to review, because I can’t be sure whether I actually saw it. Surely something so strange and out of the ordinary must have been a dream? But then I felt the same way about Donnie Darko, by the same director, and I’ve heard other people talking about that movie, so I think that there’s a good chance that these films really do exist – however unlikely that seems.
Released in the cinema this was a colossal flop. Watching it, it’s easy to see why. It’s weird, confusing and sprawling. The funny thing is, it could easily have been a huge success. The Fifth Element and Total Recall show that you can get away with a lot of weirdness if you include a bit of fighting. And strange as Southland Tales is, with its psychics and porn stars and roller skates, there’s nothing here as weird as Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element!
In this movie The Rock is almost as brave in his performance as Tucker was in The Fifth Element (though not quite as successful), but if he’d been given the opportunity to fight his way through a handful of enemies in every other scene this film might well have sneaked its way into being a hit.
A lot of people have been totally dumbfounded by the tone of Southland Tales, but as you can see from the other reviews in this issue, I read a lot of comics, and so I was well set up to “get” it. So would anyone who’s read a bit of Howard Chaykin: the sex, the media, the rebels, the caricatures and the oppression – it’s all here. If you’ve ever wondered what an American Flagg! movie might look like, this is a good place to start.
Some consider the film to be badly cast, but I don’t agree. For starters, anything with Sarah Michelle Gellar in is well cast, as far as I’m concerned. She’s a very underrated actor, and I’m baffled by the fact that she doesn’t get cast in romantic comedies, when she seems perfectly suited to them. You just have to look at how people invested in Buffy’s relationships with Angel and Spike. Anyway, gushing aside…
As for the rest of the cast, I’ll get at least halfway through any Christopher Lambert film without giving up, so that carried me far enough into this movie to find my feet. Nice also to see some of my SNL favourites in the movie: Cheri Oteri and the brilliant Amy Poehler. Justin Timberlake brings the uncanny focus of the former child star to his performance as a traumatised soldier, and Seann William Scott leaves American Pie far, far behind. On the basis of this he could be well placed in a few years to fill the shoes of Bruce Willis. He wears a shaved head very well.
I haven’t said much about the plot, because I don’t want to give anything away. So I’ll end the review by saying this: everyone says it’s an appalling mess. If you watch the movie with that in mind, you might be surprised by much you enjoy it.
Southland Tales, Richard Kelly (dir.), US, 145 mins.