The Rock Finger ActingThere is a moment when critics unleash their wrath on a particular film which is akin to bear baiting. Except often the film is not the cinematic equivalent of a bear, and the lashing is completely justified. Two films have been savaged by critics this week. Both, in their own way, deserved it. Though I’m guessing Codename: The Cleaner (because even I didn’t see that) deserved it more thoroughly. Because I’ve seen Southland Tales and whilst it is tawdry, stupid, labyrinthine, pretentious, outdated, second-hand, derivative and did I say stupid – it is also more entertaining than most films I have seen this year. So bad its good? Not quite that simple. So unpredictable that it entertains by virtue of promising little and delivering – er – little BUT a wholly different little to the little you expected.

Firstly its is just one tale. Everything ties together neatly from the neo-Marxists (yeah right) to the liquid karma (some hippy shit) and the time travel. Some reviews have noted the density of ideas. Er, its the guys second film and he is already repeating himself. Put it like this, if you told me that the film would boil down to a time travel plot almost identical to that of Donnie Darko’s, I would have guffawed. Surely Richard Kelly has more ideas that “wow – time travel means you can meet yourself“.

So whilst it may not be quite as good as the previous Seann William Scott and The Rock/Dwanye Johnson team up movie*, it still baffles with its big budget stupidity. Every stab at portentousness misses the mark, every half arsed joke somehow gains significance. So Kelly has learned rule one on baffling film making – stuff dwarves in the film, and have a hallucinogenic dance sequence. Unfortunately he has also cribbed rule one of making a film insufferable – a voice over reading from fucking Revelations**. And an entirely humourless kicking of TS Eliot’s corpse too. Perhaps Kelly thinks he is clever transposing “This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but a bang”, but its not big, clever or even accurate. Indeed in Southland Tales the world ends with an interpretive dance and a levitating Ice Cream van. And then the somewhat ill advised choice of Tender by Blur over the credits you laugh your way out of the cinema too.

But none of this makes the film irredeemably bad. The three stars (The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Seann William Scott) all are aware that this is their one chance to do anything like this – and grasp it. Indeed there is an earnest nuttiness in the acting, a puppydog need to be loved that I responded well to. The Rock does the best finger acting of this decade for example. So despite its hopeless stabs at satire, its make-it-up as we go along plotting, I liked it. A few reviews have moaned how the film makes little sense. The problem is the film makes all too much sense, leaving you with little leeway to interpret its nonsense into something more awesome (apparently this is the problem with the directors cut of Donnie Darko too). It also means the big fat plothole misunderstanding of time travel was glaring to me. But then i have read all the time travel stories I need to, and Kelly seems to think that the audience won’t be paradox savvy. Or indeed when a policeman says Flow My Tears. Or indeed that all TV seems to be looping Kiss Me Deadly. WE GET IT!!!

I cannot in any conscience recommend it to anyone. But as the kind of grand folly that Hollywood rarely makes it really is outstanding. And any film which contains the following line cannot be all bad:
“So you know the first thing we did when we found the temporal rift?”
“You threw some monkeys into it?”
“Yes. But when that didn’t work we thought we’d try a world famous celebrity and movie star.”

*Welcome To The Jungle aka The Rundown: a film notable for
a) Not having Welcome To The Jungle on the actual soundtrack
b) Having a fight where The Rock beats someone up with two record decks.

**Any piece of art which rips from Revelations should be banned. If only just for their selective reading of this whacked out biblical book. This one is all anti-Christ and no Wormwood.