I know I’ve been negative the last couple of weeks but this is a list I really wanted to make since the start of lockdown. And considering that I could be about to go back to the cinema, I might not get another chance to make this. I promise I’ll do something more positive next week but this film is getting my ire.
You’ve likely never heard of this film; I don’t blame you. Whenever I bring up some of my least favourite films, this one is one of the first that comes to mind. But everyone I speak to has never heard of it. Well, the thing is, you will have heard of the director’s film prior to this: it’s Donnie Darko. Yeah, this film was written and directed by Richard Kelly, and while a lot of people say that his career ended with the film he did after this one, The Box, really, this film was the beginning of the end. I’ve only ever seen this film twice: once back in the mid-2000s because I saw The Rock was in it and once for the purposes of this list. And believe me, it did not get better on a second viewing. In fact, I found myself cringing at every moment of watching it. Make no mistake, Richard Kelly’s career is dead—he hasn’t written or directed a film since the late 2000s and his last credit on IMDb is a film he produced in 2010. He is done. And despite the fact The Box is also bad, I’d say this film is his worst. So, here’s the five major reasons why Southland Tales is an appalling film and one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I do not put this lightly.
You are expected to buy a comic
Yeah, if you start Southland Tales, one of the first things you’ll see is that it plays in chapters. But the first part of the film takes place during chapter 4, and I think when people saw that, to borrow from the big crossover that internet personality Louis Lovhaug did for a website which shall remain nameless (not for anything he did but for what the bosses that were employing them did), they must have thought it was a Star Wars homage. In fact, it’s not. The actual fact is Richard Kelly also penned a comic that would act as a prequel to the film, covering the first three chapters. In fact, some of the comic panels are actually in the opening monologue. More on why that’s a disaster later. The comic itself though, as much as the fact that it’s a dumb idea to put the three chapters of the story in a comic and then expect you to see a film afterwards rather than having one standalone thing, the comic doesn’t really expand much of anything—it’s really pointless. I’m very dyslexic but even I had trouble reading this thing, mainly because it reflects the dialogue of the film and, well, the dialogue is terrible, but that’s another point down the line. But it’s also hard to tell who anyone is. I don’t know how the artwork was established for this one but everything looks really sketchy in it. It’s almost like these were unused storyboard panels that didn’t make their way into the movie so it was decided to put them in the comic. So yeah, dumbass decision.
The casting is weird
Okay, I already mentioned The Rock was in it, going by the name Dwayne Johnson. But one of the things I found interesting was when I went to actually look on the IMDb page, most of the major stars are actually very far down the board. It’s almost as if they don’t want anything to do with the fact that they were in this film. And even when you actually get through all the casting, they’re strange choices. Okay, so you’ve got still-wrestling personality, The Rock, which was kind of where we still saw him even in 2006, and I suppose Sarah Michelle Gellar post-Buffy was a big grab. But then you’ve got Seann William Scott in dual roles, neither of which are comedic which is also weird considering he was known for playing Stifler in American Pie, and a lot of former Saturday Night Live cast members like Will Sasso and Jon Lovitz who are also playing serious roles. For some reason Christopher Lambert is here for a couple of scenes and he’s kind of pointless; Amy Poehler as well for some reason, and I keep forgetting it’s her throughout most of the movie because she’s also cast against type; Kevin Smith is in it wearing a weird ZZ-top beard and also deserves better than to be in this film. John Larraquette is in the movie and is completely wasted and, considering his pedigree of some of the roles he’s done, deserved way better than to be in this movie. And the whole thing’s narrated by Justin Timberlake. Yeah, say what you like about Justin Timberlake but he’s expected to narrate this thing with real pathos to what he’s saying; no disrespect to Justin but he cannot do pathos and make things sound like they’re epic and important.
And that’s another thing about this film—everyone is horribly miscast. I think the only one I think was very well-cast was Wallace Shawn of Princess Diaries fame who definitely can play a weasely politician out for his own gain with some implied bizarre bedroom habits. Seriously, this film is really bizarre. The Rock is so against typecast, playing this rather neurotic film director who seems to be in a constant state of either being surprised or confused or just plain all over the place. There are very few moments in the film where he’s allowed to be badass which is really annoying because that’s what he’s good at; he almost does it effortlessly. Seann William Scott is expected to play dual roles but neither of them is very different from the other, an excuse being that they’re both supposed to be twins of one another. And again, he’s in a serious role and looks completely out of his depth. In fact, everyone in this film looks like they’re out of their depth. I think the only person who seems to carry their lines with confidence is Sarah Michelle Gellar who plays a porn star named Krysta Now who’s now got her own Loose Women-style show with other former porn stars debating the issues of the day. And no, that doesn’t make any more sense in context than it does without it—get used to that. Bottom line: I have no idea who the casting agent was but I seriously hope they improved after this movie.
It’s too long!
There is no reason for Southland Tales to be 2.5 hours; there are segments where nothing is happening in this movie. I’ve commented in that past about films that need to cut stuff for time and it would have improved them, but man, Southland Tales is actually in a state where you could cut half the movie and it wouldn’t make a difference. Remember that sort of prologue that tried to get everyone up to speed on what the plotline is? Do you know how long it is? 10 minutes! We spend ten minutes just looking at blank still images having things explained to us. I got so bored with this on my viewing that I actually brought my Nintendo Switch out and started playing a game to cover the time because it was so dull. It also weirdly doesn’t explain anything much, which is rather ironic. Yeah, it does give a bit of the setting but these are things which should be slowly playing out as the film goes on, not all crammed into 10 minutes at the beginning.
That prologue is actually a big problem because, as a result, there is no room really for the film to expand; it doesn’t really have to tell as much of the context of WW3 which is happening during the events of the movie. (In a previous YouTube video that I mentioned, it’s pointed out there shouldn’t really be a World War if America is only at war with Iraq, Iran, Syria and North Korea.) But it also has so many moments that go absolutely nowhere. The film actually stops dead halfway through the movie for a music video where Justin Timberlake mimes the song ‘All These Things I’ve Done’ by The Killers after he gets high off a new drug called liquid karma, which is also a fuel source. This film is the definition of the words: context is for the weak. Bottom line: it’s a long, meandering, dragging mess with several moments of not a lot happening. Moving on.
The dialogue is appalling
If there’s one thing I hate in films it’s pretentiousness, and Southland Tales is exceeding in that department. There are so many literary quotes with no sense of context whatsoever which don’t really add anything to the plot. It’s not like in, say, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan where Khan is repeatedly quoting Moby Dick because, in that example, Khan’s story reflects that of the character in that work of literature and it ties back into his character—it’s one of the few books he had to read whilst in exile. There’s a reason for that quoted dialogue to be there. I have no idea why this film felt the need to quote things like Jane’s Addiction lyrics as well as a weird reversal of a T.S. Eliot quote. The film repeatedly says, “This is the way the world ends: not with a whimper but with a bang.” Dumbass, that misses the point of the quote in the first place! You’re not being poetic; you’re being an edgelord. The only one that kind of is justified—and I use that in the loosest terms—is when Justin Timberlake is constantly quoting The Book of Revelations, but that’s kind of going into the next point so I won’t go into too much detail on that one. But even then, the quotes are so random in places you keep forgetting that it’s a motif of the film.
And other than that, I really despise the dialogue the rest of the time; there are tons of moments that are all over the place and characters speak like no human being would in any sort of situation. I’m used to unrealistic dialogue in films and I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in a lot of cases, but this has it happen so often I wonder what Richard Kelly was thinking bringing this together. There’s also the infamous “pimps don’t commit suicide” line which has been pointed out by several commentators as not only dumb but actually kind of insulting on many levels when you actually find out what the meaning behind the line was when it was going through Richard Kelly’s head, since it’s supposed to apparently be a salute to the US veterans. Okay, that is dumb on so many levels but I don’t have time to go into it. There are plenty of people who have explained why it’s so dumb online—go check out their videos. Which leads me to the final point…
The plot is nonsense
Okay, I have no idea if I’m justifying Richard Kelly’s vision for Southland Tales but this is what I’ve basically been able to make out between reading the comic, seeing the film, and checking out several videos online including Louis Lovhaug’s video, which was also a big source of information about the film, particularly to do with its production.
Basically, from what I can gather, this is a film set in the distant future of 2008 where the Republican Party in America has expanded the Patriot Act to let them do something with security, I think, which means they can now install cameras in toilets. They do this after a nuclear explosion happens in Texas—which doesn’t relate to anything that happens in the movie other than create the setting—and during this World War, the US oil supply goes down, meaning they have to create a new fuel source called liquid karma which also turns out to be a drug. And now it turns out that The Rock is playing a director called Boxer Santaros, one of the dumbest names ever, and again, The Rock deserved better than to be in this film. In this screenplay he’s predicted that the world is going to end, and that’s kind of what’s happening, and all the characters are actually supposed to be a sort of californicated version of all the characters in The Book of Revelations. But the end of the world plot doesn’t really matter all that much; the idea of an apocalypse doesn’t really come into effect until the final portion of the film, and in fact no one who actually knows that the end of the world is happening is trying to stop it or do anything of sorts. In fact, there’s also a world domination plot going on surrounding Wallace Shawn’s character which completely goes nowhere; it’s actually dropped entirely in the final portion of the film.
Does anything I’m saying make any sense? This is what watching this film is like and I’ve not even mentioned half of the subplots. There’s a whole thing about Seann William Scott’s character having gotten out of Iraq after the war but he doesn’t actually remember how he actually succeeded in doing that, and then there’s some really dumb explanation for why that is, and there’s also just some weird imagery. I have no idea. The film stops dead for a minute to show an advert for liquid karma which shows two cars—to put it politely—having their own personal fun. There’s a whole subplot around a group of neo-Marxists who stage a fake racially-motivated murder by a cop in order to prove the government’s corrupt which, given the events of last year, really feels extra yikes! right about now, especially when Jon Lovitz turns out to be an actual racist cop and actually does kill them, only to disappear from the film after stating to the characters that they were never really there. Trust me, where that goes is really dumb. And even then, that subplot doesn’t go anywhere because I think Richard Kelly realised halfway through it didn’t relate to anything that was happening in the main world domination or end of the world plots, so he just drops it.
Seriously, this film is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever seen. It never sticks to a plot point and just runs with it. It’s a nightmare of taxing your brain to remember what’s been happening or to make any sense of it, not helped by the aforementioned pretentious dialogue. It’s the main reason I hate this film—it is so full of itself that it really wants you to think it’s deep and meaningful, and if you’re confused it’s because you simply didn’t get it. No, there’s just nothing to get. It’s insane nonsense, running around thinking you’re the smartest person in the room when in reality you didn’t quite understand a lot of what you’re talking about and you weren’t willing to ask people who genuinely did know for help in understanding it. And as a result, you make this nonsense. And that is why Southland Tales is one of the worst films I have ever seen.
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