Friday, July 8, 2011

One A Week Reviews #27: Kaboom

Is it showing my age to admit I've been a fan of Gregg Araki since I first saw The Living End in college? It was the mid-ninties and my early twenties. That film broke big on the Indie scene for him but the film I connected with more was The Doom Generation. Never before had I seen nihilism or young adult hormones portrayed quite so candy-colored before...

The new film, Kaboom, is a bit of return-to-form for him after the wonderful, meandering stoner comedy Smiley Face. (Shockingly and appallingly, I have yet to see Mysterious Skin, but I'm moving it up the Netflix queue to resolve that). This is more of a looser Nowhere, an assemblage of sexually-charged near-misses and scenes threatening a tragic third act, here given some breathing room and a dash of David Lynch-style ominousness. The cynical and hyper-sexualized teens that have populated most of his films are here. His dialogue is in that same smart-aleck style but here is slightly lighter and looser as well. Sadly, the sprawl and dream-logic seems to get tangled up in the mystery story structure of Kaboom. To paraphrase Joe Bob Briggs, there's too much plot getting in the way of the sex.

Smith, the lead, is an aimless bisexual college student hot for his roommate and involved with one of his two gal Fridays. He also may be the "chosen son" and trigger of some pending possible apocalypse. Or it could just be the arduous ennui of turning 19. Between random sex-romps and the mystery of a possibly-imaginary trio of animal headed murderers, things stay off-kilter for the duration. What Araki captures best is that teens-and-twenties sense having an aimless, endless future in a world threatening to go over the edge coupled with a messy, sprawling libido.

Gregg Araki always gathers great casts, but they don't seem quite up to it here. His regular stand-in, James Duval, having aged out of playing a college aged protagonist, shows up as a stoned RA and he's always a welcome appearance. Thomas Dekker wanders around like a more focused and clearly ambisexual version of Duval's protagonists in Nowhere and The Doom Generation. Haley Bennett as side-kick Stella seems to be channeling Rose McGowan- who bit into, ripped apart, and spat out Araki's dialogue like it was the end of a cigar - but not quite getting there. This might be a projection as McGowan will always be the greatest snarling, snapping deliverer of twenty-something attitude. Juno Temple's London seems like the worst qualities of both Beckys from Roseanne, but with a Brit accent and loose morals. Chris Zylka's Thor, the uber-male, unconsciously homoerotic roommate, has more to do in the deleted scenes than in the main storyline, but he's mostly here so we can appreciate his ass over his character development, anyhow.

The roundelay of sexual confusion would work better without the pre-apocalyptic overtones, but they layer of ominousness they ad helps with recall the scary unknown of adolescence. The contrived mystery doesn't really go anywhere and the ending is a major cop-out, but it's still a stylish trip. The Lynch styling and outta-left-field curveballs in the plot don't help. The closing credits montage of images capture more tone and theme than the last five minutes of contrived mystery plot. Obtuse and "odd image with loud droning tone" are not a good substitute for real mystery. Did I even mention in Araki-world there's a witch and some zipless fucks? The film climaxes to a song by Placebo, perhaps the band that matches most the sleek style and sexually ambiguous tension of much of Araki's film stylings.

The post-adolescent overwhelming sensuality, Araki's hallmark and usually reminiscent of an overripe fruit (or boil) about to burst, is dampened a bit here. I'd chalk that up to the now fifty-something director's branching out to broader topics, but I think it frustrated me. I expected another Nowhere or Doom Generation, and to be transported back to that overwhelming, hormone-addled, supercharged emotional state. Having those cues here, but cooled with a maturity and mystery, left me feeling let down. I appreciate Kaboom, and it's worth a watch, but it didn't get me, to use a term apropos for any Gregg Araki film, "off" in the way he used to...

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