Video Vault: Complete train wreck of a movie actually fun to watch

Will Pfeifer

Am I the only person in the world who liked “Southland Tales”?

The movie was booed at Cannes, savaged by critics and barely released by its distributor. It finally slipped out on DVD, and though a few online critics gave it a mild thumbs up, this seems to be the rare movie that just about everyone detested.

Don’t get me wrong: “Southland Tales” is a complete mess, full of jokes that don’t work, overblown philosophical concepts and casting choices — The Rock as a sensitive actor? Jon Lovitz as a nasty cop? — that seem like awkward stunts. Plus, even at its trimmed length of 145 minutes, it’s too long, with a bloated midsection and an ending that somehow still feels rushed.

At least “Southland Tales” manages to be something different, a movie that throws away the cookie cutter so beloved by Hollywood. Writer-director Richard Kelly (who also made the vastly better 2001 movie “Donnie Darko”) obviously had something he wanted to say, something about the Iraq war and the energy crisis and global warming and partisan politics and the inanity of pop culture — and probably a whole lot of other things. I don’t think he succeeded, but I enjoyed watching him try.

The plot? You might want to sit down for this: In the very near future (this July Fourth, in fact), America is in sad shape. A nuclear attack on Texas has turned the country into a virtual police state, with cameras everywhere and machine gun nests watching over public areas. A tech company is about to debut its method of generating energy from the oceans, and a surveillance company is unveiling a way to monitor just about everything.

Into this mix, Kelly tosses a terrorist group trying to stir things up, an actor who seems to be acting out his own screenplay, an adult film star turning into a pop icon and a cop who might be twins — or the same person twice. Oh, and don’t forget Justin Timberlake. He’s there, sitting behind a machine gun off the coast of Venice Beach, watching the action unfold.

Most of “Southland Tales” gets swamped in its own complexity, but there are moments that stand out and hint at what might have been. I loved the out-of-nowhere musical number starring a beaten-down, beer-drenched Timberlake, and the ending, which involves a dirigible, a floating ice-cream truck and a rocket launcher, is eerily wondrous, even if I’m not sure what the heck it all means.

Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Sundays. Contact him at or 815-987-1244. You can also read his Movie Man blog at

Some DVDs out today

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

“Blast of Silence”

“The Bridge on the River Kwai”

“Corporate Affairs”

“I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With”


“Lars And The Real Girl”

“Melrose Place: The Fourth Season”

“A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila: The Complete Unrated First Season”

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

And CDs

Mariah Carey, “E=MC2”

The Naked Brothers Band, “I Don’t Want To Go To School”

Everclear, “Vegas Years”

The Brian Jonestown Massacre, “My Bloody Underground”

Asia, “Phoenix”

Phantom Planet, “Raise The Dead”

William Shatner & The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, “Exodus: An Oratorio in Three Parts”