Friday, March 25, 2011

Film review: 'Kaboom' fizzles in tepid bath of juvenilia

Juno Temple and Thomas Dekker in Kaboom.


By John Thomason


Gregg Araki puts the‭ “‬terrible‭” ‬in‭ ‬enfant terrible.

For more than‭ ‬20‭ ‬years,‭ ‬the filmmaker has staked his dubious claim as the foremost‭ ‬auteur of vacuous Gen-X movies about sexually experimental hipsters.‭ ‬With one notable exception‭ – ‬the disturbing and deeply moving‭ ‬Mysterious Skin,‭ ‬which boasted the best performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career‭ ‬--‭ ‬his movies are stultifying glimpses into a void of hedonism and eye-rolling self-referentiality,‭ ‬as artistically malignant as they are intellectually deflated.

Araki’s latest,‭ ‬Kaboom,‭ ‬is essentially a science-fiction movie,‭ ‬albeit a subversive one that deserves some credit for wandering way off the genre’s reservation.‭ ‬Unfortunately,‭ ‬the places it wanders off to resemble the hollow vacuum of juvenilia that is home to just about every other Araki film.

The film showcases the‭ ‬52-year-old writer-director at his infantile worst.‭ ‬His fans may hold him in a higher regard than such low-hanging directorial fruit as Kevin Smith and Dennis Dugan,‭ ‬but his movies are just puerile.‭ ‬How’s this for a priceless line of Araki dialogue,‭ ‬from one of his sexually liberated female characters:‭ “‬If I come anymore tonight,‭ ‬my cooch is gonna break off.‭”

When he isn’t trying to shock us with his characters‭’ ‬sexual frankness,‭ ‬Araki bombards us with pop-culture snark and litmus-test references to his favorite music and movies,‭ ‬from New Order to Luis Buñuel’s‭ ‬Un Chien Andalou.‭ “‬Are you worried‭?” ‬asks protagonist Smith‭ (‬Thomas Dekker‭) ‬to his best friend Stella‭ (‬Haley Bennett‭) ‬following some strange occurrences on the college campus they share.‭ “‬Does Mel Gibson hate Jews‭?” ‬she replies,‭ ‬without missing a beat.

Araki’s cinematic fantasylands are populated exclusively by cultured,‭ ‬quick-witted horndogs just like these two contrived specimens,‭ ‬their lines dripping with their screenwriter’s self-satisfaction.‭ ‬Others include Juno Temple as a randy British tart with an‭ ’‬80s coif and a library of Buzzcocks references,‭ ‬James Duval as a hippie prophet of doom and Chris Zylka as a perpetually shirtless surfer-hunk named Thor who tries to master the art of self-fellatio.

A realistic conversation between these creatures is about as rare as an intriguing shot.‭ ‬For Araki,‭ ‬the cinematography is all about a motley,‭ ‬eye-catching set design and a multicolored‭ ‬mise-en-scène that tries,‭ ‬unsuccessfully,‭ ‬to mask the director’s pedestrian eye.

Kaboom’s ramshackle plot follows around Smith and Stella as they attempt to fornicate their way through one mysterious phenomenon after another,‭ ‬from the real-life manifestations of recurring dreams to strangers in animal masks slaying women in the dead of night to a devious new mate who harbor powers of supernatural possession and witchcraft.‭ ‬It is at once a near-pornographic,‭ ‬bisexual college comedy,‭ ‬a slasher film and a paranoid political thriller,‭ ‬all mashed together into a scuzzy ball and spat onto the screen.‭ ‬Some of it is arousing,‭ ‬some of it mildly interesting,‭ ‬but most of the time,‭ ‬you’ll just feel icky and impatient.

By the time the picture ends,‭ ‬on a surprisingly fun note of anarchic,‭ ‬existential lunacy that is too late-too late in justifying its characters‭’ ‬artificiality,‭ ‬you won’t care about the results.‭ ‬More likely,‭ ‬you’ll wonder why people keep letting Araki make movies.

KABOOM.‭Director:‭ ‬Gregg Araki‭; ‬Cast:‭ ‬Thomas Dekker,‭ ‬Haley Bennett,‭ ‬James Duval,‭ ‬Andy Fisher-Price,‭ ‬Jason Olive,‭ ‬Juno Temple,‭ ‬Chris Zylka‭; ‬Distributor:‭ ‬IFC Films‭; ‬Rating:‭ ‬R Now playing at Living Room Theaters at FAU in Boca Raton,‭ ‬Frank Gateway‭ ‬4‭ ‬in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables Art Cinema in Coral Gables.

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