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Going South
Donnie Darko follow-up debuts at Cannes

21 May 2006  |  Written by   

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Yesterday, Empire referred to Southland Tales as our most anticipated movie of the festival. Well, as we all well know, anticipation can be a dangerous thing, hyping expectation above reasonable levels. Even so, even detatching ourselves from the sweet memories of Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly's difficult second movie sadly proves a heavy-duty disappointment.

Indeed, the critical reaction has almost unanimously been negative, with some seasoned Cannes-goers insisting it's actually the worst movie they've ever seen in competition here. During the screening, the walkouts started at around 20 minutes in, and there was a slow haemorrhage of audience members throughout. During the closing credits, Blur sing, "Come on, come on, come on, get through it" – a sentiment which most viewers sympathised with as they shuffled out following just over two-and-a-half hours of… Well, what exactly?

After opening with a chilling home-video witnessing of a rogue nuclear explosion in Abilene, Texas in 2005, the story jumps forward three years to a bizarre parrallel-reality Los Angeles where the ensuing energy crisis has led a bunch of people who look like the future dudes from Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure to invent a perpetual motion machine that harnesses the ocean's power to produce a fuel they call "fluid karma".

Meanwhile, movie star The Rock wakes up on a beach with amnesia, hooks up with porn star Sarah Michelle Gellar, and together they try to hawk a script about the world's end, which is apparently an unwitting prophecy. Supposedly guiding us through all this via an overused voiceover is Justin Timberlake's facially scarred Iraq-veteran, who simultaneously relates the tale of Seann William Scott's kidnapped cop and his treacherous identical twin, who becomes involved in a "neo-Marxist" plot to spark a riot.

It's an overambitious muddle of a satire, referencing everything from TS Eliot and Robert Frost to Dungeons & Dragons and dodgy ‘80s action movies (Christopher Lambert cameos as an arms-dealing ice cream van driver). The most obvious movie touchstones are Alex Cox's Repo Man, Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (in fact, Kelly describes Southland Tales as "a spiritual remake" of that ‘50s noir masterpiece) and Kelly's own Donnie Darko.

When told about the walkouts afterwards, Kelly conceeded that, "I always thought the film would certainly push buttons, and I think it will continue to."

"The film is meant to be a tapestry of ideas," he went on, "all related to some of the biggest issues that we're facing right now. Homeland security, alternative fuel, our increasing obsession with celebrity and how celebrity now intertwines with politics… The problem we're facing isn't simple, and I think the film is meant to experienced like a puzzle. I think this is a film that needs to be experienced in more than one viewing, to fully comprehend the intricacies of it."

With that movie getting on for three hours long, Kelly's asking a lot of his fans. Here's hoping the Cannes reaction will prompt a merciless re-edit; even so, though – and it chokes us up to even be typing this – it's hard to see what can be salvaged. Sob…

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Your Comments

I'm looking forward to it anyway!
I don't care what the critics say, I'll have to see it myself before I start yelling about how disappointed I am and how selfabsorbed R. Kelly is. Too bad I'll have to wait until November to see it in my country :( More

Posted by Trenton at 22:47 on 05 June 2006 | Report This Post

Just saw this in Cannes...
I hate to say it, but this isn't one of those movies where the critics are just wrong. It's almost as if Donnie Darko were a Japanese/Korean cult movie, and Southland Tales is the nasty, badly put together Hollywood adaptation. It even 'borrows' (I'm sure that's incorrect as Donnie Darko is his movie anyway) several shots from Donnie Darko. Acting isn't all that bad to be fair, but the movie is. Should've seen it coming when I saw the result of his script for Domino.... More

Posted by Release at 22:06 on 23 May 2006 | Report This Post

This stuff always happens with movies I anticipate the most...
But then again... other people might be wrong. I find myself enjoying movies that other people hate (and the other way around by the way) and I prefer an ambitious mindfuck over any traditional Hollywood summer blockbuster anytime of the day. At least Kelly shows some ambition. I hope he can live up to this. More

Posted by moviemaniac-7 at 17:50 on 23 May 2006 | Report This Post

So this is
Richard Kelly's Revolver then...? More

Posted by Grace Scott at 12:28 on 23 May 2006 | Report This Post

Donnie Darko was overpretentious tosh
And it looks like Southland Tales will be too. Shame, looked like a cool movie with a great cast. Me thinks Mr Kelly might have a touch too much hubris. DD wasnt half as smart as it thought it was and its science is off. Shame with that too. Great cast and well acted. Just like this one. More

Posted by Teamwak at 20:53 on 22 May 2006 | Report This Post

RE: so sad
Oh it got many rave reviews, but it had a fair share of negative ones as well. Leonard Maltin gave it a bad review, and i think Roger Ebert did. Even now many people hate the film.  I heard it didn't do too well in sundance, but i guess I don't really know. More

Posted by Dignan at 20:52 on 21 May 2006 | Report This Post

RE: so sad
Uhm, Donnie Darko got rave reviews, I could not see any film mag, newspaper or film show which did not praise Donnie did great in Sundance. Admitedely Cannes are a bit snobby, but I did fear he would start to believe his own hype...always a problem, the movie seems to ambitious and the actors are all very questionable. More

Posted by lbiu at 20:41 on 21 May 2006 | Report This Post

RE: so sad
This doesn't change how much I want to see this film. Donnie Darko didn't get good reviews when it premiered at Sundance. Many respected critics still don't think it's any good. This film will probably divide audiences as well. And, thinking about it, several films that did very well in Cannes I havn't thought to be up to much when i've seen them. This is still my most anticipated film of 2006 More

Posted by Dignan at 20:36 on 21 May 2006 | Report This Post

RE: so sad
I loved Donnie Darko, but when I saw the cast and the plot for this movie I assumed it was going to be bad. It sounds a little to jumbled...I love original and abstract movies but only if they can control and express their themes properly More

Posted by lbiu at 19:53 on 21 May 2006 | Report This Post

so sad
i'd been really looking forward to this but now i'm not really sure. i'll wait for more reviews when it's released in sept but right now it's not looking too promising. such a shame. More

Posted by lost4eva at 18:15 on 21 May 2006 | Report This Post

surprising, but sadly not that surprising
as much as i've looked forward to Southland Tales i couldn't help but feel that from the first plot outlines that it sounded like Kelly was just trying to "out-weird" Darko (which, being a fan of surrealist cinema, i reckoned was more slightly abstract than weird), and apparently he's created a muddle by the sound of it. i'll still go see it-although the presence of timberlake alone is putting me. seriously, last year i had to be held back from kicking in my t.v when i heard him say &q More

Posted by Rock Lobster! at 17:46 on 21 May 2006 | Report This Post

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