Southland Tales

southlandtales2.jpgOriginally, I was not going to review Southland Tales. The reason was simple: Southland Tales is one of the worst movies I have seen in years—a film bereft of any entertainment value and a monumentally excruciating waste of time—and as such I didn’t want to give it anymore of my time by writing a review. But then I realized that if I didn’t at least come out and say how much I hated Southland Tales—even in an abbreviated review—then the time lost watching this rancid crap would be even more of a waste.

Southland Tales is writer-director Richard Kelly’s follow-up to his cult hit Donnie Darko. I must admit that I never saw Donnie Darko, due in large part to the amount of hype others used to build the film up, and my concern that I would be disappointed. Now, having seen Southland Tales, I can say that not only will I never watch Donnie Darko, I can also say that any talent or creativity exhibited by Kelly was simply an incredibly serendipitous fluke, as evidenced by the utter lack of craft, talent or charm in this terrible piece or cinematic trash. And no, this is not an example of some type of sophomore slump where a filmmaker stumbles a bit and loses their footing. Southland Tales is Kelly falling off a cliff into a bottomless pit. And we should only be so lucky that he never returns to infect the world with his noxious “art.”

Set in some alternative reality in the year 2008, the United States is an oppressive police state following a series a nuclear attacks that has plunged the nation into a global conflict. In one of the countless elements that is never adequately explained, the presidential election is being decided in California, during a heatwave in July. And that is about as much of the plot that can be explained or understood, because the rest of this shit—and by shit I mean that in as literal a sense as it can be applied to a film—is a jumbled mess of attempts by Kelly to be clever, poignant or intellectually superior to the rest of the planet. But all he really does is fail. And not just fail in the way other self-important filmmakers have failed over the years. No, Kelly fails miserably; setting himself on a pedestal so high, he should be the stick by which every talent-challenged asshole is measured for years to come.

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Having received a primarily negative response at the Cannes Film Festival several years ago, where it screened in a version that clocked in at over three hours, this heavily trimmed down version of Southland Tales now shamelessly robs the audience of just under two and a half hours (which they will never get back). Exactly what Kelly chose to remove from Southland Tales may or may not have been the crucial scenes that would allow this perplexing narrative to make a little sense; but it can’t change the fact that he sucks as a writer and a director. Working with a cast of actors that have at least once in their careers proven they have talent, Kelly manages to get performances that seem as if the actors have no clue what it is they’re saying, and frequently comes across like they aren’t even the same room together. At any moment you expect one of the actors to break character, look directly into the camera, and say, “I have no idea what the fuck I just said.”

Kelly’s abilities as a writer and director betray him as someone who may have read an article or two about filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick or Terry Gilliam, but who doesn’t appear to have ever watched any of their films. In fact, Kelly’s mind-blowing deficit of talent and all-consuming inability to make a film that at least has a few good moments, offers evidence that he doesn’t have the slightest inkling about story or storytelling.

Southland Tales is a film that is intellectually and creatively offensive. It was painful watching it, equally painful thinking about it to write this review, and the only positive thing that can be said about both experiences is that with these final words I’m typing, I will be done with Southland Tales forever.

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