Okay, Mike Phillips, I finally saw Southland Tales.
Here's the thing: I heard this movie was terrible, and it was even worse than I expected. Sure, like anyone, I enjoy some Donnie Darko. Not the Director's Cut, which adds lengthy text pieces and attempts to "explain" the science of time travel using the magic of metal + water. But the theatrical release of Donnie Darko is a movie I can recommend. I used to teach it in my cinema class, but I stopped because every teenager had seen it by the time they hit senior year. I don't know if that's true anymore, and maybe I'll start showing it again soon, but you know what movie I won't add to the curriculum?
You guessed it! Southland Tales.
Even before the Cannes crowd booed this piece of cinematic silliness off the stage, we had plenty of warning signs that the movie wouldn't be very good. I personally had the misfortune of seeing Richard Kelly speak at the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con, after being brought onstage by his pal Kevin Smith. As quick-witted and loquacious Smith can be, Kelly is the opposite. He could barely form a sentence during that presentation, stumbling over words and incoherently trying to explain bits of the project he was working on. Then he showed an early version of the CGI sequence of the scene where an SUV humps a smaller SUV. Maybe Kelly has trouble with public speaking (not the best character flaw to have as a director, one would imagine), but there's no excuse for the utter lack of taste or humor in that SUV scene.
Another warning sign that Southland Tales would be a disaster was Kelly's director commentary track on Donnie Darko. As anyone who's ever listened to that track knows, the story Kelly thinks he's telling doesn't match what's on the screen. In his mind, Donnie is a kind of superhero who, at the end, flies up into the sky and pulls the engine off the jet, sending it back through the time rift. That doesn't match the visuals, and listening to him explain the movie to (once again, his pal) Kevin Smith, proved that his ideas and the execution of his ideas do not correspond.
Then, of course, he cast Kevin Smith as a paraplegic Gulf War vet, and considered Southland Tales a postmodern musical dealing with the effects of 9-11 and the celebrity culture. All warning signs that the movie might not work.
And it doesn't. At all.
This is a movie where Cheri Oteri and Seann William Scott give two of the more restrained performances.
This is a movie where the Rock is somehow Jesus, just because he happened to time travel sixty-nine seconds into the past. Except, wait, he's not Jesus, because Seann William Scott is. Spoiler, sorry. But you really don't want to see this movie anyway.
This is a movie where Wallace Shawn can't even make the dialogue work.
This is a movie where a facially-scarred Justin Timberlake acts as a lethal sentinel over the city, shooting Marxist rebels before lip-syncing and dancing to somebody else's song, selling Iraqi-import awesome sauce, and forgiving his best friend (who shot him in the face and is Jesus).
This is a movie where the number sixty-nine is supposed to be inherently funny, so Buffy the Vampire Slayer has it on her license plate.
This is a movie where the presidential ticket features Eliot and Frost, as in T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, and then goes and quotes or misquotes the most famous lines from their most famous poems as if that somehow legitimizes the awfulness.
This is a movie that tries so hard to be about something, it is about nothing more than the unrestrained incoherence of its writer/director.
I know the obvious joke for me to use regarding this silly, ugly, ineffectual time travel movie is something like, "I wish I could travel back in time and stop myself before I wasted my time watching this disaster," but instead of saving myself, I'll spend the rest of my life warning the rest of humanity to avoid this movie. It's not good.