Southland Tales

Samuel Goldwyn Films

Review in a Hurry:  The end of the world can't come fast enough in this disappointing attempt at satire from Donnie Darko writer-director Richard Kelly.

The Bigger Picture:  It probably is a sign of the apocalypse when The Rock is the funniest thing in your comedic take on the End of It All. Sadly, Kelly's obviously ambitious Southland Tales turns out something like Dr. Strangelove, except rewritten by Carrot Top, cast by Lorne Michaels and directed by John Waters. (Actually, that would have been so much better.)

The plot revolves around a film-within-a-film gimmick that, like the rest of the film, comes off only half-baked. Movie star Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson), suffering from amnesia, has a new porn-star mistress (Sarah Michelle Gellar) with whom he's written a screenplay about the end of the world—which just so happens to be less of a future blockbuster and more of an accurate prophecy.

Apparently, despite having written it, Santaros wasn't smart enough to read the thing—which could have saved everyone a whole lot of time.

Before long, the movie devolves into disparate plot threads held together by coincidence and bizarre behavior, bracketed by slick-looking but empty exposition packages, all slouching toward a mildly surreal, unsatisfying conclusion.

The lame portentousness here might be forgivable if anyone involved had brought the funny. Kelly packed scads of SNL alums into his cast but seems to have given them no direction apart from "Be as annoying as possible." It's only the occasional non sequitur that generates the hint of a laugh, and there aren't nearly enough of them to fill out the two-hours-plus running time.

Kelly's first film may have been an instant cult classic, but you should be wary of any cult that forms around Southland Tales. It's likely to be the kind that's more into Kool-Aid and Nikes than audience participation and midnight shows.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Three things that don't suck about Southland Tales: (1) John Larroquette's fantastic Tommy Lee Jones impression; (2) Gellar's repeated, earnest insistences about the validity of teen horniness; (3) it's 15 minutes shorter than the roundly panned version Kelly screened ages ago at Cannes, extra time you can use to reflect on the choices you've made.

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