The Faulty yet Lovable 'Southland Tales'

You may not have heard of Richard Kelly's film 'Southland Tales.'  The film generated reviews so mixed (aka bad) that distribution was virtually halted.  The rambling, schizophrenic mash-up of political satire, soft sci-fi and post 9-11 panic didn't sit well with critics.  The ensemble cast and use of tracking shots makes the movie feel sort of like a dystopian version of Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia.'   Kelly was far from finished with the project when he submitted a rough cut to Cannes on a lark.  The enthusiastic reception he received was both a shock and a challenge, considering how far the project had strayed from the original concept:  a spoof of Hollywood centered around a porn star and an action hero trying to pitch their screenplay.  A new version was edited on the fly, at a point when the larger project of 'Southland Tales,' which includes a graphic novel series and website, was literally half-finished.

Knowing the story was essentially incomplete by the director's own admission excuses some of the obvious shortcomings.  The multiple storylines feel more like vignettes than a unified plot.  Ultimately it is the struggle of finding a satisfying convergence point of war, science, entertainment and enlightenment that turns an unwatchable mess of a movie into a poignant snapshot of modern confusion.  Kelly knows his story isn't complete.  He promises the viewer the world will end, but the voice-over narrative warns early on that it won't make much sense why or how this happens.  The film's half-hearted conspiracy ending exposes itself for what it is:  a convenient way to tie up too many loose ends.  Personally, I interpreted the non-resolution of 'Southland Tales' (when compared with Kelly's other work, most notably 'Donnie Darko') as a genuine attempt to transcend the post-modern corpse with soul.  The various sub-plots give way to the ending in a literal sense, but the different concepts that drive them refuse to meld into one explanation of everything. 

Here is a highlight, featuring Justin Timberlake lip-syncing to the Killers in a bowling alley/arcade filled with veterans of Fallujah while he trips balls on a mysterious drug called "fluid karma."  Yes, you read that right.  The only thing missing from this pop culture clusterf*ck is Bai Ling, who's novelty cameo in the film sadly didn't extend to this musical number.


Warning:  enjoyment of this clip may expose you as the conformist, JT-tolerant, closeted Killers fan that you are.    

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