During a three day heat wave just before a huge 4th of July celebration, an action star stricken with amnesia meets up with a porn star who is developing her own reality TV project, and a policeman who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.
Southland Tales is an ensemble piece set in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008, as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Boxer Santaros is an action star who's stricken with amnesia. His life intertwines with Krysta Now, an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and Ronald Taverner, a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy. Written by
In the introductory titles, as Pilot Abilene narrates, there is a white map of the United States that implodes towards the screen as he says "Interstate travel visas were required for each state." Right before the map implodes, you can see that the state of Wisconsin is unaligned. See more »
Private Pilot Abilene:
In the aftermath of nuclear attacks in Texas, America found itself on the brink of anarchy.
[overlapping news reports]
Private Pilot Abilene:
World War III had begun.
Private Pilot Abilene:
The accelerated conflict in the Middle East placed significant restrictions on American access to oil. Alternative fuel sources became a lucrative commodity. Americans were transfixed by the terrorist's threat, and were willing to prevent another attack by any means necessary. Military checkpoints were erected at each State line. ...
[...] See more »
After the credits, a logo appears of a thumbprint over an American flag with the words: "DON'T TOUCH ME" See more »
You can get a pretty good idea of Southland Tales from a quick description of its characters. Dwayne Johnson plays Boxer Santaros, a movie star in Richard Kelly's all-too-near dystopian future. But it's not that straightforward. Johnson plays The Rock playing Boxer Santaros, while Boxer is playing the role of a character he's researching, one Jericho Kane. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays an ageing porn-star with a business portfolio that includes energy drinks. And Sean William Scott? Well, he plays a cop's amnesiac twin brother, as part of a neo-Marxist scheme to overthrow the government. Or does he? And you thought Donnie Darko was confusing. Welcome to Southland...
The year is 2008. Justin Timberlake - did I forget to mention him? He plays a drugged-up Iraq war veteran with a huge scar on his face. Who sits in a huge chair with a huge rifle, guarding "Fluid Karma", an ultra-valuable perpetual motion wave machine that is the new form of power since oil has become rare and therefore massively expensive. Politics, anyone? Anyway, JT (who might be telepathic) narrates over an introduction comprised of graphic novel slides and MTV-meets-FOX news bulletins that guides us from our present to the "present" of Kelly's 2008 Southland. The passage of time has not been kind to the US; a nuke has gone off in Texas, and the country has become a police state. The most "recent" clip reveals that Boxer (played by Dwayne Johnson playing The Rock) has disappeared without a trace, which is where the movie begins. Or does it? By this stage, you just might have gotten the impression that Southland Tales is a bit of a mess. And you'd be right. Kelly's attempt at a politically-charged all-encompassing comment on the world that can also appeal to the youth of today does ultimately fall flat, but that's not to say it's without its merits. The satire's often sharp, and the way the movie skips from genre-to-genre (dystopian conspiracy to Scooby Doo farce to musical to action movie) works surprisingly well without jarring too much. The music, while not perfect (I'm pretty sure Black Rebel Motorcycle Club won't have the kind of comeback that allows them to host LA's 4th of July weekend party next year...) creates some of the movie's more memorable moments, such as JT's Killers dance number and the captivating three-way dance toward the end.
The deliberately exaggerated performances are, for the most part, very good, with Johnson capturing the action man (playing an action man - going through a crisis - playing an action man) role very well. The way he switches from the kind of guy who pours beer over himself as a form of refreshment to jittery neurotic mess is both funny and engaging, allowing you to see a little of the man beneath the steely facade.
Unfortunately, this is as close as you'll get to the characters. While the overplaying is amusing, it excludes you on an emotional level. Donnie Darko worked so well because it drew you in, but Southland seems to deliberately keep you at arm's length lest you miss out on some of Kelly's political messages. For all its mystery, intrigue, and action, it feels a bit soulless, and goes out with a whimper as opposed to the bang it so desires.
Southland Tales is an ambitious film, but a messy one, and while it may not work on the kind of level it's aspiring to, in a movie climate where so many films play it safe, at least Kelly tries. Very flawed, but entertaining nonetheless.
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