Review: “Southland Tales”

[The original script] was more about making fun of Hollywood. But now it’s about, I hope, creating a piece of science fiction that’s about a really important problem we’re facing, about civil liberties and homeland security and needing to sustain both those things and balance them.

a tapestry of ideas all related to some of the biggest issues that I think we’re facing right now . . . alternative fuel or the increasing obsession with celebrity and how celebrity now intertwines with politics.

[Southland Tales] will only be a musical in a post-modern sense of the word in that it is a hybrid of several genres. There will be some dancing and singing, but it will be incorporated into the story in very logical scenarios as well as fantasy dream environments.

- Richard Kelly

The director of “Donnie Darko” certainly can’t be called someone with a lack of vision. But, what exactly are his eyes trained on? And, is he seeing the world through a kaleidoscope?

When I first read the synopsis for “Southland Tales”, I got really excited with what could’ve potentially been the best comedy since “Dr. Strangelove”. Basically, the epicenter of the end of days is Hollywood and our hero is an amnesiac action star trying to get a screenplay that he co wrote with a porn star made. This could’ve been SO much fun.

Instead, what I (and the studio) got was the equivalent of witnessing a first year film student burning money in a trashcan for over 2 hours.

I should note that even though I own this movie on DVD, I am not re watching it for this review. Instead, I’ll be going on memory — sad, frustrated, disappointed memory:

A few years after a nuclear attack on Texas, the U.S. has become a full blown police state, keeping it’s citizens under constant surveillance. Yet, this invasion of privacy is unable to track the most famous movie star in the world (who walks around in broad daylight), who has been shacked up with a porn star, who has ties with an underground organization bent on overthrowing the government, who also has vague ties with a mad scientist that has created a new energy, which may also be responsible for a rip in the fabric of space time, which threatens to…

…convolute everything. Man, was it hard to sit through this. Kelly crafted such an awesome story in “Donnie Darko”, I thought he could pull it off in his second time out. That film — though with a smaller budget — similarly dealt with very unique personalities part of a larger story. Both stories are about mysterious situations and how the characters weave in and out of them. But, where DD succeeded, ST failed miserably. It lacked a certain focus, and seemed to confuse ambiguity with brilliance.

You know the phrase “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” in reference to a kid who can’t finish his meal? That sums up this production. The ambitions are grand — taking on such political and even religious themes — but it’s handled as if it’ll just work itself out in the end. With a budget under $20 million and some higher profile stars to deal with, I suspect that Kelly was too busy carrying everything on his shoulders, that he let some important things fall to the wayside. What a shame.

This is the only explanation that makes sense to me. His feature after this one was “The Box”, which was pretty entertaining and weird. And “Domino” — which he only wrote — was constructed very well despite it’s big story. So, Kelly is certainly capable of excellent work, he just was in over his head a bit.

I’ve read in interviews that he’s quite proud of “Southland Tales”. No, for real. Hopefully, it’s because he learned something from the experience. If not, then he’s just lying to us and himself.

This review was requested by a friend on my blog’s facebook page (look to the right of this page). If you have anything you’d like me to watch and criticize, feel free to suggest something. And if Richard Kelly happens to be reading this, please take no offense — I honestly can’t wait for your next movie.

1/5 *’s

Originally published at on July 27, 2012.

Independent film critic. Progressive po’ boy, moviegoing romantic. SEFCA member, 🍅 - approved. Newsletter at

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