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Published March 26th, 2007 | by Mike Barnard

Southland Tales Review

Classification: 15 Director: Richard Kelly Rating: 3/5

When Donnie Darko became a cult classic through word of mouth, it was largely ignored at the cinema but found a wider audience on DVD. A director’s cut ensured writer/director Richard Kelly would face the burden of expectation with his follow up, and Southland Tales has suffered many cruel words as a result. Kelly’s vision of a post-apocalyptic America was derided for being incoherent and self-indulgent, facing edits to get a cinematic release which was again given little time in the cinema. Sadly even with the changes, Southland Tales is hard to decipher, but it may find a cult audience due to its post-modern sci-fi style.

Kelly has certainly cooked up an interesting back-story. Nuclear attacks on America in 2005 render all but the state of California habitable and the city of Los Angeles is on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. The government has control of almost everyone’s lives while technological advancements in perpetual motion have finally led to a sustainable source of energy that is causing the Earth to slowly stop spinning and also leading to public and private firms battling to prevent its introduction. Meanwhile, a Marxist underground movement is plotting to bring down the authorities, which is where the attention finally focuses after a news-style introduction.

Narrated by Iraq veteran Private Pilot Abilene (Timberlake), the action centres over three days in the build up to July 4th celebrations. Actor Boxer Santaros (Dwanye ‘The Rock’ Johnson) is trying to secure financing for a new movie he has been working on with former-porn-star-turned-talkshow-host Krysta Now (Gellar). To research his film, he meets L.A. cop Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott) whose identity has mysteriously split in two. When Boxer and Taverner’s part in a conspiracy plot goes wrong, Boxer’s world suddenly starts to mirror his movie and Taverner goes in search of his twin. It proves to be the catalyst for an ever-increasing stacking of plot points and characters which will have you in knots half way into the 145 minute runtime.

Southland Tales has the modern sheen of a movie that Kelly wants to look as cool as he thinks it is. The wacky characters have been carefully constructed to be fascinating to watch and listen to, but they never gel together for more than five minutes. If only Kelly had worked out what his focus was, he may have had a real sci-fi classic on his hands. Cameos from Mandy Moore, Christopher Lambert, Miranda Richardson and Kevin Smith give the impression he had enough material for a ten-part series rather than one overlong mess and Timberlake’s narration muddles it further. Southland Tales does have an endearing quality in its efforts to be a modern-day Blade Runner in looks crossed with The Fountain’s mysticism, however be sure to watch in the knowledge you will not find it as rewarding as either. Kelly will face a much tougher ride on getting his next project into cinemas.


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