This has been the hardest review yet to write. Southland Tales is a movie that my brain wants desperately to forget. I’ve tried to gather my thoughts about it, as I do with all movies I see, but I feel it slipping away as my brain makes space for useful things like the number of teeth I have (28), the current temperature of my refrigerator (36 degrees Fahrenheit, -2 for the freezer), or how many of my DVD’s start with the letter S (37). It’s not technically inept on the level of an Ed Wood movie, and yet it makes Wood’s work look like Citizen Kane in comparison. It is, quite simply, the single worst movie I have ever seen.
To sum up the plot with any kind of description would be doing you the reader a disservice, because it would make it sound like it has a coherent narrative. It doesn’t. Dwayne Johnson (he’s fully dropped his former nickname of The Rock), Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Miranda Richardson, Justin Timberlake and many others wander around this colossal mess with seemingly no direction whatsoever. Most feel like they’re in completely different movies, which is possible because writer/director Richard Kelly doesn’t have a clue as to what type of movie he wanted to make. He tries to go for a sort of drama/comedy/pre-apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic/futuristic/musical/time-travel/over-the-top satire, except none of it works. The drama isn’t dramatic, and the comedy is as funny as if a Rob Schneider movie had a baby with Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, that’s how often I laughed. Actually, to be fair, I did laugh once at one of Mandy Moore’s lines, which had everything to do with her delivery and the fact that she can be a terrific comedic actress, and not necessarily with the humor of the written line. But one laugh in a movie that is (I timed it, because they misprinted it on my Netflix disc) 467 hours long is not enough.
It obviously thinks it’s saying something important, with Timberlake serving as narrator and always quoting the Biblical book of Revelation. I assume inaccurately, simply because everything else in the movie is a failure, so why not that too (although I guess it’s possible at least one thing was done right)? But there’s nothing of the slightest importance in the endless pile of excrement that is this movie. Hell, Kelly was even able to make both Timberlake and Johnson uncharismatic and boring, a feat I would’ve previously said was impossible. He was also able to get inherently and effortlessly funny people like Amy Poehler, Jon Lovitz, and Wallace Shawn to be unfunny even when they were trying to be funny. Actually, come to think of it, there’s not a single good performance in this movie. The leads are good-looking enough to be watchable, but they all give terrible performances (even with Moore’s one laugh, she’s never been worse). How Kelly got any of these actors to be in his movie is beyond me. He’s got to be one hell of a photographer to be able to get the kind of incriminating photos he must have on these people.
Southland Tales famously opened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, where it was roundly trashed by most in attendance. But Kelly must have black mailing photos of Sony CEO Howard Stringer as well, because Sony picked up the movie for distribution and gave Kelly more money for additional special FX in exchange for a lowered running time. I would say that the money paid off, except that none of the FX look particularly good, and in fact the movie as a whole looks like a low budget made-for-TV movie. Or like it was made by a student who’s fresh out of film school, and has no visual idea of how to make a movie, but has a professional crew to work with anyway. The only good thing to come out of the Sony deal was the decreased running time. Although the final time is listed at 144 minutes, my timer still told me it was 467 hours. More than a year and a half after its disastrous debut at Cannes, Southland Tales opened at the box-office and flopped big time, making back only about 4% of its budget.
I didn’t write that last part to make myself feel better about hating a movie that tanked at the box-office, or trying to make fun of Richard Kelly for failing so spectacularly. I did it to illustrate the fact that sometimes a movie fails at the box-office for a reason. Like, in this case, maybe it’s terrible. I hope Kelly comes back and makes a great movie next time around (and we’ll get to see, with next year’s The Box). But to sum up my feelings about Southland Tales (and to paraphrase a line from Roger Ebert, though he said it about a different movie), if a person you know says they want to see this movie, or recommends that you see this movie, I recommend that you don’t know that person anymore. This is movie cancer, the world is a worse place because of the existence of Southland Tales.