widescreen – An apocalyptic Southland Tales

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This is how a movie fails not with a whimper, but with a bang.

A nuclear explosion in Texas, on July 4, 2005, sets off a lengthy prologue that saddles the opening minutes of Southland Tales, director Richard Kellys long-awaited follow-up to the cult hit Donnie Darko.

The prologue, complete with a voice-over narration supplied by Justin Timberlakes character, Abeilene, goes on to tell of how rampant patriotism, escalation of Middle East wars, and an erosion of civil liberties all fall out of the devastating explosion.

A faux CNN-style news program goes on to backfill much of this information, and skips the film ahead three years to the 08 presidential election, the fate of which lies in California the Southland.

A key player in this new world is Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Rock Johnson), a missing Hollywood action star married to the daughter of a prominent Republican running on the 08 ticket.

Neo-Marxist guerrillas from Venice Beach are blamed for Boxers disappearance, but the truth, which centers around adult film actress Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and police officer Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), turns out to be far more sinister   if not downright silly.

Kelly dangles substance before our eyes. Southland is packed with biblical and social allusions, making it seem at times like a neo-21st-century socio-political pop culture Gospel of Resurrection carved right out of the Book of Revelations.
But the film is of flash and hollow substance; a farcical attempt at subversive social mythos and political satire.

The story is bloated with too-thinly veiled metaphors and story elements that are more non sequitur than mysterious.

The editing is anticlimactic, as immature as Kellys directing. And while all this may seem intentional may have been intentional for neo-noirs sake it just does not work. Rarely has a film failed so successfully.

The casting even throws Southland off-kilter. Several Saturday Night Live alums make appearances, giving the film a sketch feel. Johnson is far too charismatic to play a bumbling Hollywood fool actor, and Timberlake is too future sexy to play the scarred war-vet apostle.

Ultimately, Southland feels as though it is cobbled together from snippets of an (imaginary) overheard drunken conversation between Terry Gilliam and Paul Verhoeven; two brilliant directors who could have easily done any number of wonders with, what is ultimately, Kellys unrealized tale.

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