But there is also a peculiar undercurrent of nostalgia. In the 1990s Araki made his reputation on a series of films that pushed sexual freedom and youthful rebellion to the point of nihilism. Their titles — The Living End, The Doom Generation, Nowhere and Totally Fucked Up — evoke the basic attitude, if not the full measure, of Araki’s furious wit. Kaboom, following the somber, beautiful drama of Mysterious Skin and the relaxed goofiness of Smiley Face, represents the director’s desire to get back in touch with his old, bad boy self.
Who wouldn’t want to? Then again, who can? Kaboom has some of the passionate awkwardness of a punk-band reunion tour. But there is something forced and inauthentic about the way the film throws itself at its characters, a bunch of smart, randy, uninhibited kids who frolic like rabbits and talk like junior semioticians. Those kids are all right — and cute as can be — but what about the guy with the camera who’s always following them around? Is he the too-hip junior professor, or another sad, aging graduate student checking the mirror to reassure himself that he’s really still young, and still cool?