Donnie Darko - a recent classic entry into the annals of cinema history. Southland Tales - the difficult second album. Unfortunately, this is not a tale of triumph over expectation-laden adversity, but a land where you just go south. Check out that pun-fueled title word-play, yo!
Anyway. It's a real shame to be honest. There are ideas within Southland Tales than would have provided a fresh and interesting film, but alas it's all rather scattergun. It's a meandering and unfocused mess, it really is. It swings violently back and forth between being shoved up its own arse (e.g. all the Bible quotes from a grimace-loving Timberlake) to moments of inspiration (e.g. the musical number, with Timberlake, set to a track by The Killers).
Central themes, such as that of the Patriot Act gone OTT and the eclectic exploration of the so-called Southland itself work quite well, but they drown under a torrential downpour of self-aware camera-mugging. Everybody in front of the camera seems all-too-aware they're starring in a cerebrally-challenging epic, and end up delivering their lines with that sense of smug, dry and elongated grandeur that either works (when done well) or sticks itself right up it's back passage (when overcooked) ... Southland Tales exhibits the latter.
Despite this, there are interesting turns from Johnson and Scott, which just about hold your attention long enough to survive the sedate pace. There's nothing wrong with a sedate pace - as long as you know what's going on, and you care about what's going on - but here you often find yourself struggling to either know what's going on or to bother caring if you really want to find out what's going on.
Donnie Darko was similarly confusing, but at the heart of it lay a back-in-the-day high school nostalgia trip, something anybody can grab on to. The trouble with Southland Tales is that seemingly nobody (except perhaps fellow Southlanders), can find anything real-worldly enough to hold on to in order to weather the stormy plot.
It feels like there are at least two movie's worth of plot swirling around in Southland Tales, but it all lacks enough coherence to make you care, or understand, or both. It seems that Kelly has unfortunately gotten a bit carried away and birthed a bloated child you struggle to care for. It's a fate that has certainly befallen many filmmakers before him, so this isn't a Kelly bash-fest, far from it. Southland Tales is admirable, but annoyingly messy. Hopefully his next feature will re-assert his well-deserved status in the industry.