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Movie Review: ‘Kaboom’ a bomb for director Araki

Thomas Dekker, Juno Temple and Haley Bennett in Kaboom.

Gregg Araki’s last two movies, while wildly different from each other, were leaps and bounds better than his weird, ultra-low-budget films (like The Living End and Totally F***ed) that helped define queer cinema in the 1990s.

Mysterious Skin (2004) was based on Scott Heim’s now classic novel about growing up troubled and gay in Kansas, and it starred Joseph Gordon Leavitt in the role that made it clear that he was an actor, not just an aging child star. The movie is almost flawless.

Smiley Face (2007) followed, and it starred Anna Faris as a struggling actress who goes on a really, really long drug trip after eating entirely too many pot cupcakes. It’s a hilarious, ridiculous movie, especially if you’re high, too. Or so I’m told.

So, I had high hopes that Araki’s latest, Kaboom, would continue in this trajectory – smart, careful, entertaining. It doesn’t. I wouldn’t say that it is a step backwards, but rather Kaboom is a step sideways. The movie is a bizarre blend of genres and tones, and while it is entertaining, it is also as mystifying as it is absurd.

A description of the plot exemplifies this: Smith (Thomas Dekker from Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles) is a bisexual, or “undeclared,” freshman at an unnamed Southern California university that often looks like UCSD. When he’s not lusting after his blond surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), screwing a British sexpot named London (Juno Temple), hanging out with his sarcastic lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) whose girlfriend is a psychotic witch, screwing a guy he meets at the beach who designs and sells hot tubs (Jason Olive), he is being chased by murderous cultists who wear animal masks. There are drug trips, a headless corpse, a lot of nudity, a lot of sex and a mélange of mysterious notes, IM chats and flash drives. The end of the film is a cross between Dude, Where’s My Car, Thelma & Louise and Dr. Strangelove. As Stella says at one point, “I know. It sounds nuttier than squirrel shit.”

It’s a perplexing mix of comedy and horror, and I found it hard to figure out whether I was laughing with or at the movie. Stella has one truly funny line after another, and she earns most of her laughs, but when the truly creepy animal-masked cultists are explained, it’s silly, and I’m not sure Araki meant it to be. Dekker does serious and scared as any veteran of the Terminator franchise should. But he’s no comedian, so he seems to deaden some of the humor, and again, it’s not clear if that is deliberate. Also, continuing the confusion, Dekker and Zylka are both playing much-lusted-after young men, but Araki has given them the worst haircuts I’ve seen in eons. However, their naked bodies – as well as those of Olive, Bennett, Temple, Roxane Mesquida, and Andy Fischer-Price – should help to distract you from the bad styling.

Not at all distracting is Araki’s use of saturated colors and smart, surprising camera angles. He is an auteur, and Kaboom reflects his now almost indelible style. It is just one of Araki’s minor works.

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Posted by on Mar 3, 2011. Filed under Movie Review, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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