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STUDIO: MPI Home Video
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
- Deleted Scenes
A sci-fi sex comedy halfway between John Hughes and Joss Whedon. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It should do. It’s the best thing about the film.
Director: Gregg Araki
Writer: Gregg Araki
Cast: Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Chris Zylka, Roxane Mesquida, with Juno Temple and Kelly Lynch.
Freshman Smith (Dekker of last year’s vile A Nightmare on Elm Street remake) studies cinema at an arts college that looks like Bret Easton Ellis and Philip K. Dick designed it. Naturally, he spends most of his time trying to get laid, not going to class, and hanging out with his best friend Stella (Bennett), a bundle of sardonic lesbian cliches. When Smith starts seeing the girls of his dreams in real life only for one of them to get murdered, he has to make sense of the mysterious goings on around campus before it’s too late.
Kaboom‘s appeal is simple but powerful. Putting a bunch of sexy young actors together and watching them smooch it out for supremacy is as captivating now as it ever was. Most sex comedies don’t even bother with much of a focus, letting the inevitable break-ups and break-downs take care of the plot. And that’s fine. These movies are here to entertain, not contemplate the human condition. So it’s credit to Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation) that his latest actually gives his attractive leads something to do beyond fall into bed with each other.
Even though he’s 18, attractive, and popular with girls as well as guys, Smith still sulks his way around town telling people he isn’t “bi” just because he’s adventurous in bed. He’s, like, too progressive to conform to such… um, stifling labels. Or something equally pseudo-rebellious. Smith may not be the most sympathetic lead, but Dekker lends him a nice balance of male angst and fey vulnerability, reflecting his confused status quo nicely. When he’s not trying to convince himself or those around him he’s a sexual trailblazer, Smith mucks about with his best friend Stella, a sarcastic gay girl archetype prone to some embarrassingly un-hip teen slang. Stella wants to be Kim Pine, the damaged girl hiding behind her wit. In lieu of anything fresh or funny about her, she ends up feeling like she’s crash landed straight from an American Pie DTV sequel along with most of her cast-mates. Using a term like “downloading his hard drive” as a euphemism for gay male sex will do that (yeah, it’s that kind of movie.) Bennett may be game, but the script’s dependence on conventions and lowest common denominator “raunchy” humour means she’s fighting a losing battle.
Smith gets a dose of perspective when strange messages and girls from his dreams – literally – start landing on his doorstep. A vaguely prophetic note about him being some sort of “chosen one” doesn’t bother him nearly as much as the mystery ladies though, so Smith doesn’t go straight to freaked out about that. Instead, he continues fooling around with London (Temple) and lusting after his surfer roommate Thor (walking Hollister advert Chris Zylka.) That is, until a campus cult murders one of his dream girls (Nicole Laliberte) and Smith endeavours to prove to Stella et al it wasn’t a dream. Of course, he gets a helping hand soon enough as Stella starts dating Lorelei (Mesquida), another one of Smith’s dream girls, only to discover she’s a needy witch. Again, literally. It’s worth noting here that all this glib, sub-Whedon pop culture humour doesn’t woo us into its good graces. This has none of Scott Pilgrim‘s heart with all of its morally suspect sexcapades. The result is every bit as disagreeable as that sounds. There’s none of the escapism of Edgar Wright’s film where acts of honest to goodness heroism and virtue balance out the mistakes people sometimes make. There is only the embarrassment and shame of the morning after where last night doesn’t seem so important anymore.
Here we enter the sort of “bonus” section of the story where Araki punctuates loads of Skins-style sex scenes with a frail mystery/thriller sub-plot. These sequences are tonally at odds with everything else in the film. That’s obviously the point; a sort of metaphor for how going home alone on a Friday night might not be the end of the world after all, even if it might feel like it to a confused teenager. Regardless, it doesn’t work. Injecting these 2-D thriller beats which desperately yearn for Lynchian quirkiness into a glorified 90210 episode does not a genre-bending cult comedy hit make. More like a clumsy, superficial mess with bags of potential.
These issues are not readily apparent though. The film’s myriad problems burst forth over time, like some sort of cinematic xenomorph grasping for freedom. While we wait for Smith’s meandering sexploits to yield anything of note, Araki bombards the screen with flesh in the hope of distracting us. It even works occasionally, but a cringe-worthy line or grating archetype arrives before long to cancel that out: witness Juno Temple’s “dude, it’s a vagina not a bowl of spaghetti” oral sex commentary and Jimmy Duval’s stoner goofball respectively for examples. The occasional nugget of intrigue and plot does sneak into the orgy, only to get swept aside in favour of – yes, you guessed it – another bit of boring bareback slapping. Rather than visualize Smith’s “arc” (and I use the term loosely) successfully, the script pays the softest lip service to it. So when we’re supposed to feel a sense of foreboding growing around Smith, Dekker delivers a wry little reminder that he’s going through some sort of rite of passage while he’s having lunch or walking around. Not that you’d know it to see him in action most of the time, apparently a sense of impending doom is really harshing his buzz.
An idyllic So-Cal university is a fine backdrop for a comedy. Or a murder mystery; the quasi sci-fi aesthetic of futuristic cars and neo-retro computers even works well alongside the films underdeveloped cult aspect. The main problem isn’t that this horror element doesn’t mesh with Smith’s coming of age/anywhere he can “journey.” It’s that the sum of these separate parts isn’t enough to warrant a feature film. Kaboom staggers its way to 86 minutes, eking every scene dry of potential incident and “lulz.” Witness Smith questioning Thor’s sexuality because he wears deodorant “like, every day” and doesn’t live like a complete pig. Araki obviously has a great deal of time for the masters of the sex comedy genre, but he shows it in the worst ways. Flat characters spout such cringe-inducing “kewl kids’ speak” that there’s little chance for them to freshen the all-too familiar tropes on display. Like everything else about the film, it’s so desperate for affection that it keeps forcing poorer versions of better films at us with trendy music drizzled on top. It’s supposed to hypnotize us in a sea of promiscuity and youthful life and death romantic melodrama, but the effect is the opposite: a wearying trudge through the plot of a typical Hollyoaks episode with delusions of grandeur.
I wouldn’t recommend Kaboom to anyone looking for a satisfying sex comedy or even a particularly interesting experimental one. I would, however, recommend it to anyone who’s ever felt Kevin Smith gets a raw deal. For a filmmaker decried far and wide for his sexually-loaded humour, Smith has always been shrewder in that department than some give him credit for. Yes, he relies too heavily on the crude stuff at times, but he always grounds it in character-driven storytelling. Characters we care about. Araki does not. Kaboom shows what it’s really like when a filmmaker thinks it’s enough to throw pretty faces and ugly, candid conversations about sex together. The result is not funny or titillating, nor is it achingly hip as its presentation here suggests. It’s lazy and more than a little old hat. I was clock-watching after 45 minutes.
The worst is saved for last though. A tidal wave of exposition gushes forth in the ridiculous final ten minutes. Araki bungs his loose ends in like a kid who forgot the point of his essay until the end of his exam. Seeing as the mystery wasn’t successfully integrated, it counts for nothing when it suddenly takes centre stage like this. Once again, not clever or funny, even if it is intended as a middle finger to convention. The film is obviously low-budget, but that’s no excuse for this kind of sloppiness. I don’t care if the money was there to realize this concept to the fullest. It doesn’t need a dazzling array of CGI and huge set-pieces. It needs some attention paid to character, story, and pacing. Rattling from one bed to the next isn’t a plot and a half-baked whodunit isn’t a spine to hang soft-core on either. This isn’t about whether you’re a prude or not. This is about wanting a film to successfully tell even a basic story that engages the viewer rather than bores him. If you’re going to throw out the rule book and make a nihilistic comedy, go for it. Don’t act like that’s what you’re doing when, in fact, you’re making a more explicit OC.
Since the film is entirely too long to begin with, the deleted and extended scenes are gruelling to say the least. It’s almost worth watching just for the unintentional comedy value though. If you thought Thor’s suspect behaviour was laughably transparent in the final cut, how it was originally handled is really something. The guy might as well have worn a t-shirt with “suspect individual” on it. Araki and Dekker keep talking up the films chaotic feel and how polarizing it is with audiences during their commentary, possibly in an attempt to compensate for the lackluster end product. Sorry, gents; Fisher Price David Lynch is still Fisher Price David Lynch, no matter how punk rock you try to paint it.
If you’re a fan of commentaries where every trendy song in the film is slavishly identified, you’re in for a treat though. The same attention is given to the deleted and extended scenes. Most of these were ommitted to ensure a brisk pace or keep something from being telegraphed early on, although the end result rather undermines that. Everything looks and sounds nice with its pretty cast and trendy soundtrack, appropriately enough, so the presentation is every bit as vapid as the film. I appreciate that Araki is highly thought of within New Queer Cinema and this is a sort of throw-back to the movies he made his name with, but there’s simply no getting around how frustrating, lazy, and – worst of all – boring it is.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars