Southland Tales

Movies
5 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Call it Richard Kelly’s big-bang theory. In the writer-director’s incredible follow-up to Donnie Darko, bang is both how the world ends in his inversion of the last line of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” and how it comes together in stupidity: “Once you get on the bang bus, you never get off,” declares a playmate of porn star–chat host Krysta Now (Gellar). A doomsday scenario that takes on Iraq, the endless war on terror, the idiocies of political movements and the aggressive vacancy of pop culture, Southland Tales is one of the smartest, funniest, most audacious—and most mournful—films of the year.

A movie bursting with so many ideas is rare enough; rarer still is one that displays a director’s sheer love for his performers. As with Gellar, Mandy Moore (playing a Republican senator’s daughter), Seann William Scott (as a soldier traumatized by a friendly-fire incident in Fallujah and his twin), the Rock (an amnesiac action star married to Moore’s character) and Justin Timberlake (another vet permanently damaged by Iraq) serve as semaphores for American trash culture while simultaneously exploding their celebrity personae. Kelly’s ardor also extends to other films: Clips from Kiss Me Deadly, another L.A.-set apocalypto, pop up, but Mulholland Drive is Southland’s clearest touchstone. “I’ve had this recurring dream,” Scott’s scarred fighter ruefully utters. Like David Lynch, Kelly knows that musical numbers express a surfeit of feeling, evident not only when Rebekah del Rio sings “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but when Timberlake lip-synchs to the Killers. Ideas and emotions share equal weight in Southland Tales. You can’t get more bang for your buck than that.

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