Fri, Jul 15, 2011 - Page 16 News List

Movie review: Kaboom

American director Gregg Araki revives his rebellious and scathing wit in his latest film

By A. O. scott  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Thomas Dekker, right, and Juno Temple star in Kaboom.

Photo courtesy of CatchPlay

Smith, the bisexual Southern California college student whose misadventures — some possibly in his own head, many in other people’s beds — are at the center of Kaboom, is a cinema studies major. This fact in itself may not be enough to establish him as an alter ego for the director, Gregg Araki, but it does allow Araki to offer some hints about what he is up to in this chaotic, trifling, oddly likable film.

At one point Araki’s super-bright color scheme gives way to flickering black-and-white images culled from the early, silent, aggressively surrealist work of Luis Bunuel. Bunuel’s insight in L’Age d’Or and Un Chien Andalou — independently repeated a few years later by Leo McCarey in the Marx Brothers vehicle Duck Soup — was that the syntax of film could make the incongruous appear coherent. An illusion of continuity is produced that can turn nonsense into sense, even as the medium’s compression and fracturing of time can have the opposite effect.

And Araki works the logic both ways. Kaboom is both crazily disjunctive and smooth, jumping from polymorphous sex comedy to murder mystery to paranoid apocalyptic science fiction freak-out, with nimble nonchalance and up-to-the-minute pop music cues. As Smith (Thomas Dekker) and his best friend, Stella (Haley Bennett), trade sarcastic banter and exercise their late-adolescent libidos, weird things start to happen. Strangers whom Smith has seen in dreams show up at parties. Shadowy figures in animal masks commit grotesque acts of violence that leave behind no evidence. Stella’s lover, Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), turns out to have supernatural powers, which come in handy during sex but turn scary once Stella tries to cool things down a little.



Gregg Araki


Thomas Dekker (Smith), Haley Bennett (Stella), Chris Zylka (Thor), Roxane Mesquida (Lorelei), Juno Temple (London), Andy Fischer-Price (Rex), Nicole LaLiberte (Red-Haired Girl), Jason Olive (Hunter), James Duval (the Messiah), Brennan Mejia (Oliver), Kelly Lynch (Nicole)





So there is the stalker-witch-lesbian spoke of the narrative, which ultimately joins — haphazardly and almost facetiously, true to the movie’s governing spirit — a bunch of others. Smith lusts after his roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), a hunky, blond, clothing-optional surfer who is avowedly heterosexual but whose behavior illustrates the axiom that “straight guys are gayer than gay guys.” This wisdom is offered by London (Juno Temple), a pixieish adventuress who becomes Smith’s frequent bedfellow and might almost be mistaken, if Kaboom allowed such conventional terms, for his girlfriend.

Smith is also picked up by a stud on the beach, courted by a sweet nerd named Oliver, and more and more obsessed with his strange visions. To say that the various loose ends are gathered up in the end is accurate enough, but really beside the point. Araki is not trying to harmonize the disparate elements of campus soap opera, soft-porn farce, serial-killer thriller and (what was it again?) apocalyptic science fiction freak-out, but rather to shake them all together until they explode.

Several characters say they feel the world is coming to an end, a signal that the movie is accelerating toward its own conclusion. Which raises, in the viewer’s mind, the usual question: bang or whimper? A little of both, really, but mostly a hollow pop, like a Champagne bottle party favor filled with confetti. And this, too, is part of the point. It would be silly to fault Kaboom for being shallow or unserious; its whole mode of being is profoundly anti-serious, playfully assaulting any form of earnestness other than Smith’s emo melancholy.

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