The Peter Pan of queer-punk indie films, Gregg Araki has spent almost 20 years carving out his own goth-kitsch corner in teenage-wasteland cinema. If his previous two movies---the heavenly hustler drama Mysterious Skin (2004) and the super-stoner farce Smiley Face (2007)---didn't exactly suggest maturity, they hinted that he was finally ready to move on. The director's latest, however, takes us right back to the Araki Zone: Malleable sexuality, mall-snark as the lingua franca and eye-rolling misfits as transcendental heroes are all back with a vengeance.
Cute, awkward college freshman Smith (Dekker) spends his days nursing a crush on his priapic surfer roommate (Chris Zylka) and palling around with his female best friend (Bennett). Then strange things start happening: People from Smith's recurring dream begin showing up in real life. Men in animal masks start stalking him. A comely British student (Temple) and impossibly hunky gentlemen suddenly seem ready to jump into his bed. (In Araki's films, the women are hot---and the dudes are much, much hotter.) Corpses appear, then go missing. Something surreal and possibly supernatural seems to be afoot. It's as if Araki simply decided to make the horniest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ever.
For fans who've missed the filmmaker's whateversville witticisms ("You got something better to do?" "Uh, sucking a fart out of a dead seagull's ass?"), Kaboom will feel like the '90s never ended. But while Araki has finally perfected a shoegazey visual aesthetic that's simultaneously sensual and too cool for school, it's hard not to feel that his reprise of yesterday's greatest snits borders on being stuck in a rut. Even when the film eventually shifts gears and descends into glorious delirium (sapphic witches! conspiracy theories! cult sacrifices!), you can't tell whether the director is parodying the pop paranoia of Richard "Donnie Darko" Kelly or moving in on his territory. Such giddy third acts---and one bitch of a punch line---can't be easily dismissed. You just wish that Araki provided more of a creative big bang and less fizzle overall.
See also Sex, death and Kaboom