Sunday, March 23, 2008

Southland Tales - It's likeable, but I sure don't like it. Out now. (***3/10)

I tried. I really, truly tried to like Southland Tales. I liked The Rock in it. That's right - The Rock, the wrestler, I liked him. I liked Seann William Scott - Stiffler from American Pie, the guy who has only ever played a drunken frat boy, I liked him. I liked Bai Ling -the Chinese actress who was recently busted for shoplifting. I also liked Jon Lovitz (Newsradio), Cheri O'Teri (irritating name), Christopher (there can be only one) Lambert, Justin (my music is obnoxious) Timberlake, Mandy (look how big my eyes are) Moore, Sarah Michelle (I have two first names) Gellar and John (remember me) Laroquette. I liked them all! I liked the camera work, I loved the layout of the scenes, I enjoyed seeing what was coming up next. I was desperate to like Southland Tales. The movie begged me to like it, and I said OK movie, I will try my very best to do so, just don't let me down. And the movie did not let me down. But I can't recommend it because it is awful.

Here is a plot synopsis, as best I can make out. Perhaps once you have read this you will understand. World War 3 has begun. There have been nuclear bombs set off in Texas, so the Americans have responded by bombing Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Korea, Afghanistan, and possibly Belgium. The US army is running out of oil. It is the near future, but George Bush is still preisdent. (In fact, at one point they use actual file footage of Bush speaking.) As the oil runs out, a mad scientist invents a way to get energy directly from the ocean. He is either bent on world domination, or he's crazy, or he's just a nice old man with evil advisors. Still don't know. The Rock shows up on a beach. He has amnesia. He is a famous actor, but he doesn't know that, and he hooks up with Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is a porn star. He has a wife that he has forgotten, however, and she is Mandy Moore, who is the daughter of the man who is running for vice-president of the US in the elections on the Republican ticket. There are cameras everywhere, and one of the major election issues is bill 69, which would restrict the ability of the government to invade the privacy of people. Take a breath for a moment.

We continue: Seann William Scott is a cop who has a twin brother who is a left-wing extremist, and he has kidnapped his twin in order to pose as him in a large conspiracy that will see him, posing as his brother, commit a double murder with racist overtones, that will be filmed by The Rock before he finds out who he really is, and this will be released to the media to discredit both the cops and the Republicans all at once. There is musical montage, a music video, a song-and-dance number, a soap-opera going on in Mandy Moore's family where some people are sleeping with some other people, there is a world domination theme, there is drug trafficking, somehow related to this machine in the ocean that produces energy and also perhaps some variation on Soylent Green. Everything in the country is sponsored by either Hustler or Budweiser, and the grand finale of the movie involves a giant Zeppelin, a riot, a fireworks display, a rift in the space-time continuum, and a flying ice cream truck.

So...yeah. Southland Tales is about all of this, and none of this. The movie is two and a half hours long, and to cram all this stuff in and make us care, or understand, it would have to be eleven hours plus. There is just way too much going on. And yet the movie seems to have a rather laguid pace, like it isn't hurrying anywhere. It feels good to watch it. It is visually impressive. The writing is very good. There are some great lines, and great moments. The little old lady from Poltergeist is in the movie, and she has a great moment at the bottom of a staircase straight out of that movie. The little old smart guy from The Princess Bride is in it a lot too, and he throws it to that film with the word "preposterous". Kiss Me Deadly, the classic 1955 film noir, is playing on the TV in the porn star's room. The porn stars have their own TV shows and energy drinks. There are so many cool actors doing cool things. Justin Timberlake is awesome. And yet - there really is no movie here. You can sit there for two and a half hours. You might be entertained, you will be mildly stimulated, and you may even think you are enjoying yourself. But when the movie ends, you won't know what it was about, you won't care, and six minutes later you will have forgotten everything about the film. It's heavy on style, but the substance is almost non-existent.

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