Steve B.’s review published on Letterboxd:
The first time I heard of Southland Tales being in development I was excited to see anything from the director of Donnie Darko. Well it took years to finish and release, and I kind of forgot about it. When I did hear about it again the reaction wasn't good. I found out why upon watching it. Southland Tales is a complete mess. It has a ton of recognizable actors who probably signed on after they enjoyed Donnie Darko. I couldn't explain the plot if I tried, and the tone is all over the place. I can't tell if it's supposed to be funny or if it's failing at being serious. And it's a shame. There might be a coherent movie in there somewhere if only the script were subject to re-writes, and there was better casting and editing (maybe even better directing). Could this have been too ambitious of a project for Kelly to pull off? Or maybe he was just approaching it the wrong way.
I think this is an example of a film with a convoluted story or script that were their filmmakers' "pet project" or "labor of love." This kind of bad movie may have worked in the filmmaker's mind but he forgot to check if it would make sense when it's all assembled and up on the screen. Many times directors of bloated dreck like this are surrounded by a crew of yes-men who woldn't dare question their boss's opus. They trust in his vision lets major flaws go unchecked and left in the film past the point of no return.
If only there had been some studio meddling it would have been better or could have been stopped. This actually did happen to some extent with Donnie Darko and is why [the original version, not the director's cut] it is as good as it is. Some bad movies are worth watching just to remind yourself what a bad movie is. Please try to avoid watching Southland Tales, though. It is so long and painful. If you must watch it, don't watch it in one sitting. That might give you a tumor or an aneurysm. It could be a good torture device if you need to get secrets out of a prisoner.