'Southland Tales'

Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling in 'Southland Tales'

Spaced oddities: Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling inhabit Richard Kelly's bizarro Southland. Samuel Goldwyn Films hide caption

itoggle caption Samuel Goldwyn Films
  • Director: Richard Kelly
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi
  • Running Time: 144 minutes

The first five minutes of Richard (Donnie Darko) Kelly's apocalyptic epic are so arresting that it takes a while for the spell to wear off.

You watch from a Fourth of July picnic as World War III erupts — Middle Easterners nuke Texas — then learn the political ramifications in a sort of headline-news frenzy that whips through the draconian changes enacted in the attack's wake.

The newsreel culminates on the eve of an election, which looks likely to end with the triumph of totalitarian creeps, modeled puckishly on the current U.S. administration.

Then ... well, then things get complicated.

There's a neo-Marxist rebellion in which a hard-core porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is somehow involved. An amnesiac action hero (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), identical twin assassins-slash-police officers (Seann William Scott), and a cross-dressing energy guru (Wallace Shawn) also figure, so, erm, go figure.

Or rather, don't — because fairly early on, Southland shifts from sci-fi thriller to campy kitsch nonsense. It's often gorgeous to look at, but if you decide to go along for the visuals, you'll need to be prepared to just let 'em wash over you after the plot turns impenetrable.

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