Southland Tales ★½

Hack Donnie Darko, Fight Club, and Magnolia into little chunks and dump them in a big bowl of Grand Theft Auto V and you've got this heap of "satire" set in beautiful southern California, far too dumb for its own overwrought ideas. If I'm being generous, there's an anarchy to its scope that reminds one of Sion Sono's more sprawling cinematic riots — but Richard Kelly doesn't have the same sensitivity for trauma, sexuality, religion, politics, etc. This is why, even though I can't claim to have completely understood the film — because it is such a convoluted mess — I was constantly struck by the feeling that Kelly was out of his depth, trying to imbue a sci-fi dystopian comedy equal to Family Guy in humor with a sense of grandeur and weak religious obfuscation. What for, though, when it amounts to "punchlines" like one where the Rock calls Bai Ling a "stupid bitch" before kissing her dispassionately and then dropping her on the floor? Is it just me, or is there a current of banal misogyny running through this film, particularly in the way Krysta Now (Gellar) is treated? And the recurring "pimps don't commit suicide" bit says absolutely nothing to me, other than coming off like a masculine declaration of one's refusal to die in a changing world... or something. It's a line that immediately feels like it's saying: "I know you're into Fight Club and probably Pulp Fiction, and you really like those edgy movie quotes that always go over so well with your bros. Got you covered!" There's also a cheap-looking CGI sequence where a truck fucks another truck, for no apparent reason. It's juvenile bullshit like this that ruins a movie I think could have risen to its own colossal ambition. So ultimately I can't help but feel those who love this film are only seduced by its long running time and its meandering meta-fiction always suggesting something bigger and better than what's actually happening on screen in this film (so epic!) and unfazed by its garbage humor. It is "bonkers" only in the most empty way I can think of. Nothing anyone says in all 140 minutes of this actually means anything, and so the dialogue (if we can even call it that) only occasionally succeeds at being a series of mostly kinda gross non-sequiturs. Some of the lovely music buoys all this nonsense, but only so much.

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