A vision gone mad for a world gone mad? More coherent and less grandiose than his infamous Cannes rough-cut, Richard Kelly’s film is still a mess – but what a mess. Like his genre-bending cult debut ‘Donnie Darko’, it’s an end-of-days pulp-prophesy. But this time, political steamrollers personal as terrorists, politicians, porn stars, actors, singers, soldiers and scientists collide in a paranoid fantasy of dystopian America the day after tomorrow. No one, it seems, is in on Kelly’s epic conspiracy: Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Justin Timberlake are mere cartoon ciphers, winging it in the most eccentric cast so far this century. Unlike ‘Donnie Darko’, there’s no glimmer of intimacy here – this is not about people – although Seann William Scott’s double performance aches with a strange, unknowable poignancy.
Evolving like a fever dream conjured by the mind-blowing drug that propels Timberlake into a lip-sync of The Killers’ ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, Kelly’s apocalyptic carnival near bursts its veins with ideas. All fascinating, all discombobulated. Blurring between genres (sci-fi, satire, comedy), this post-9/11 meta-world is hopelessly clogged with multi-referencing (movies, literature, media, music) and criss-cross plotlines – a bizarre spectacle lost in the flux of its undeveloped non-sequiturs.
But, of course, ‘Southland Tales’ is one of those rare, impossible oddities that cinema would be poorer without. Kelly, aged 32, has more ideas than he knows what to do with and the balls to go for broke. And by the climax, his truly ambitious, truly flawed film finally disappears into the ‘time-space rift’ (or whatever) to achieve some sort of cosmic transcendence.