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Review: 'Southland Tales' loses itself in its own twists and turns

Posted Monday, March 17, 2008 at 3:43 PM Central

by John Couture

For director Richard Kelly, the concept of lightning striking the same place twice might actually be a common occurance in his celluloid universe. Kelly hit cult status with his debut film Donnie Darko, but in Hollywood replicating success is much less common than lightning strike patterns.

Southland Tales is an aggressive sophomore effort and while it didn't resonate well with theatrical audiences, it's the prototypical movie that will hit cult-like status on DVD. So, it obviously begs the question as to whether that DVD release delivers what Kelly's audience expects.

And the aswer, quite frankly, is still out.

It was widely reported in the press that Richard Kelly was forced to cut Southland Tales down into a more digestible two hour movie and most critics and audiences alike panned the resulting hodge-podge as being the disjointed effort that it was.

And let's be honest here, the movie is an ambitious project and finally at the end, we are able to discern what Kelly is attempting to accomplish, but by then it's too late and any message is lost. On the surface, it's a political satire set, ironically, in the Summer of 2008 about the upcoming 2008 Presidential Election.

But, at the same time, it also takes a scathing look at environmental degradation, our reliance on foreign oil and our unpreparedness, despite the events of 9/11. As I said though, unfortunately all of those valid points are buried beneath a muddled tapestry of conusing storylines.

Given that, you would hope that the inevitable DVD release would put all this lost footage back into the flick so as to make the movie the best it can be, but it seems that Sony is taking the same route as Donnie Darko, releasing a bare-bones version initially and then following that up with a Director's Cut, if there's interest.

But see, that's the problem. With this palty offering, there isn't enough to compel viewers to desire more of the movie. In the end, performances from such actors as Janeane Garofalo will forever remain on the cutting room floor.

With only two features added to the theatrical cut of the film, it's safe to assume that Richard Kelly's vision for this movie will only live on in his mind.

The featurette "USIDent TV: Surveilling the Southland" is a worty addition to the movie. It takes the look and feel of the movie and presents many behind the scenes looks at the process as well as a peek inside Richard Kelly's head. Again, the downside is that seeing such a good special feature only whets your appetite for something more.

The second feature is an animated short "This Is the Way the World Ends" and is set in the future and told through the eyes of marine life left to fend for themselves in the ruins of humanity's extinction. It's a fitting bookend to the movie to give the audience some closure that the film doesn't provide.

Personally, I like the way the movie ends and find the spoon-fed ending appoach to be a very tired Hollywood tool. It's almost as if they are saying that the audience is too dumb to figure it out on their own.

In the end, Southland Tales is one of those movies that will resonate on certain levels with the audience that embraced Donnie Darko as the best movie in the last decade. Of course, this offering will polarize some in that audience as it's not really an accurate representation of what Kelly envisioned.

I am one of those that hunger for Richard Kelly's full vision with this project. The movie is watchable, but I would say that this DVD is only worth a rental. Wait and buy the Director's Cut, if it ever comes.

Recommendation: Rent It