Richard Kelly’s follow-up to the beloved Donnie Darko (2001) is a hodge-podge of desperate ideas and styles unified by a handful of loosely connected narrative threads. Southland Tales (2006) may be better in its Cannes Cut that’s recently been made available by Arrow Video, but the theatrical cut I saw is a bit of a mess, albeit and enjoyable one.
Until now the only Richard Kelly film I had seen was Donnie Darko. I think everyone in my generation has seen this movie and has some sort of relationship with it. Donnie Darko was the River’s Edge (1986) for my generation, it was huge, and that’s probably why Kelly’s other work has been on the back burner for me.
Southland Tales is like a Gen X science fiction fan’s version of a Robert Altman film. Unfortunately Kelly isn’t the editor Altman was so visually the narrative threads don’t come together. To remedy this, Kelly employs a voice over by Justin Timberlake that explains all of the missing scenes and world building information. A third of the movie has this narration that inundates the viewer with exposition and biblical references that aren’t really necessary. In a fantastic genre like science fiction far less need ever be explained to the viewer. By just re-ordering a few scenes the film would run smoothly and context clues would fill in the blanks of this larger fictional world.
What does work in the film is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character Krysta Now. All of her scenes are hysterical but never at the expense of her character. Krysta Now makes for some of the best satire of reality tv and pornography I’ve seen in a movie for a while. Her song Teen Horniness Is Not A Crime is downright incredible. Dwayne Johnson is also really good, particularly when he’s poking fun at the archetype he’s playing while in the Jericho Cane role.
Overall though there is little to recommend Southland Tales, in spite of featuring Christopher Lambert in a bit role. What looks like the ultimate in 2000s cool on paper is ultimately a wild mess with no real center. However, I would still be interested in seeing Kelly’s Cannes cut of the film.