Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.
Most viewers, even those who eventually became its biggest fans, initially found Richard Kelly‘s debut feature, Donnie Darko, to be strange, convoluted and challenging to fully comprehend on a single viewing. However, compared to his 2006 follow-up, Southland Tales, Darko now seems like Where’s Waldo? Perhaps the absolute craziest film ever made, Southland Tales is a wild ride through pre-apocalyptic paranoia, fevered hallucinations and madness that really defies any kind of classification. It is pulpy, surreal, funny, political and, above all, very weird. I won’t try to convince anyone that this film is a success, per se, but its wild ambition and complete originality make it well worth a look.
Southland Tales takes place in a near-future alternate reality, after nuclear attacks taking place on the fourth of July, 2005, have begun World War III. Post-9/11-style paranoia abounds, and the world is in a far-reaching energy crisis, which the wealthy Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn) is attempting to alleviate with his new energy generator, Fluid Karma, which uses the ocean’s currents as a power source. The only problem with Fluid Karma is that it is altering these currents, causing the earth to slow its rotation, and ripping holes in the space-time continuum. This space-time rift seems to be particularly felt in the criss-crossed destinies of the film’s main characters: Boxer Santaros, aka Jericho Cane (Dwayne Johnson), an amnesiac action star who may have become the main character of his own screenplay; Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a porn star and social activist who co-wrote the screenplay with Boxer; and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), a cop who may or may not also be his own twin brother, Ronald.
Does that all make sense? Obviously, not even close, and believe me, there’s much, much more going on in Southland Tales, including but not limited to: a brilliantly strange musical interlude featuring Justin Timberlake in a blood-soaked T-shirt; a neo-Marxist conspiracy involving no fewer than four former Saturday Night Live cast members (Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler); and, of course, that screenplay written by Boxer and Krysta, which may or may not foretell the end of the world as we know it. For good measure, the film also features Kevin Smith as a mad scientist and Christopher Lambert as an illegal arms dealer who sells his wares out of an ice cream truck, as well as hilarious philosophical dialogue like “Teen horniness is not a crime,” and “Pimps don’t commit suicide.” Southland Tales is gloriously chaotic and incoherent, similar to being plunged headfirst into the fever dream of a stoned pop-culture addict. It doesn’t completely make sense, even after multiple viewings, but it is an endlessly fascinating mess.