Southland Tales.

I think Richard Kelly’s follow-up to Donnie Darko is a spoof. Yeah, I’m pretty sure.

How do I explain Southland Tales? It’s not a plot that lends itself to summarisation. It feels like a condensed version of some much longer, not necessarily better story in another medium. Maybe that’s why I was reminded of David Lynch’s Dune, which I suspect was also a spoof.

We’re in Los Angeles. It’s the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, in an alternate reality where World War III is in full swing and a beefed-up Patriot Act has put soldiers on every street corner and videocameras in every public washroom. Some anti-government rebels calling themselves Neo-Marxists are working to blackmail the Republican vice-presidential candidate, whose son-in-law, a movie star played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is having an affair with a famous musician / porn star / talk show host played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. The Rock has amnesia. And he’s written a screenplay that may foretell the end of the world. Meanwhile Seann William Scott is a guy pretending to be a cop who, I think, is trying to find his identical twin, who actually is a cop…is that right? Only it turns out either that they’re both cops or that neither one is a cop, I can’t tell which. They’re both tied up in the blackmail scheme somehow. Only there are actually multiple blackmail schemes that turn out to be part of a larger scheme, possibly involving a perpetual motion machine and Wallace Shawn in a cape.

Justin Timberlake is peddling an experimental super-drug that makes you think you’re in a music video with hot nurses. One of the identical twin cops is explaining that he hasn’t had a bowel movement in six days – this may turn out to be important. The Rock is imitating Barack Obama for some reason. Now he’s doing Woody Allen in Bananas. Now he’s being all suave and dangerous like a secret agent. Wait, has he still got amnesia? Who is he talking to? Why is he back with his wife again? Where did he get that secret code?

Oy, is this silly! It’s possible if I watched it again I could tease out a few answers, but I strongly suspect that no amount of probing will induce Southland Tales to give up all its mysteries. Two or three fragments of coherent narrative will occasionally drift into contact and for a moment you’ll think that you’re on a solid footing. Then the fragments jumble apart and you just have to drift along with the flow. It’s kind of fun anyway. How fun? Let’s just say the finale involves a zeppelin, a flying ice cream truck, a rift in the space-time continuum, and The Rock and Sarah Michelle Gellar dancing in evening wear.

I recommend you watch Southland Tales on DVD while doing something else, like solving a Sudoku. Every few minutes the movie will catch your attention and you’ll look up and say, “Wow, that was really weird.” It’s possible that there are additional rewards to be gleaned by attempting to follow the plot, but I doubt it’s worth the trouble.

Yes, I’m virtually certain it’s a spoof.


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Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker