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Review: ‘Kaboom’

Gregg Araki’s New Film Goes Out with a Bang

Above: The beautiful people ( Juno Temple, Thomas Dekker and Haley Bennett) at the center of "Kaboom."

Audio

Aired 2/24/11

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the new indie film "Kaboom."

Transcript

Gregg Araki says he wants his new film "Kaboom" (opening February 25 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) to be a cult hit. But that's a decision made by audiences not filmmakers. Listen to my radio feature or read my review.

Gregg Araki likes to call his new film "Kaboom," "a bisexual 'Twin Peaks' in college." But it's more like a hipster take on "Scooby Doo" with a lot of indiscriminate sex thrown in. But it's "Scooby Doo" mixed with "Beverly Hills 90210" so that there's only beautiful people and no Velmas. (Although there's kind of a Shaggy in the persona of the Messiah played by James Duval, Frank from "Donnie Darko.")

Thomas Dekker plays Smith, a college student about to turn 19 and plagued by a recurring nightmare in "Kaboom."

IFC

Above: Thomas Dekker plays Smith, a college student about to turn 19 and plagued by a recurring nightmare in "Kaboom."

The film opens with a dream the main character Smith (Thomas Dekker) keeps having. It involves being naked and walking down a hall past the people he knows as well as two sexy female strangers. But it all ends with a door leading to a red dumpster. Smith is baffled. And things only get worse. He ends up meeting the women in his dreams but one is snatched by men in animal masks and the other is a witch with the hots for Smith's friend Stella (Haley Bennett). Smith, like those meddling kids of "Scooby Doo," uncovers a mystery that that needs solving and he enlists his teenage college friends to help.

As part of the new Queer Cinema, Araki has always been good at challenging sexual taboos, and suggesting that sexual preferences and sexual identities don't have to fit into a neat little Hollywood box. But his films have moved back and forth between serious and just plain silly. His best work remains the somber yet beautiful "Mysterious Skin" (with a career-changing performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). "Kaboom," though, leans towards the silly. So Araki throws in abductions, conspiracies, secret societies, and a lesbian witch lover. And that means we get conversations like this...

STELLA: I Know hell hath no fury and all but could be she's not as bonkers as I thought. I don't know do you think maybe I'm being too much of a wimp?

SMITH: Dude, you have a fatal attraction stalker with supernatural powers you got every right to be creeped out.

Thomas Dekker as Smith, Haley Bennett as Stella and Roxane Mesquida as Lorelei in "Kaboom."

IFC

Above: Thomas Dekker as Smith, Haley Bennett as Stella and Roxane Mesquida as Lorelei in "Kaboom."

Araki's attempt at creating a quirky cult fav is so self-conscious that it's often self-defeating. “Kaboom” is a beautiful film to look at --¬ the cast is attractive, the clothes are hip, the colors are pretty, and a hair is never out of place. He loves beautiful young people who spend most of their time talking about or engaging in sex. But in the end they seem to be little more than pretty baubles he's playing with, "Kaboom" is ultimately all about a final punch line that trivializes everything that came before, and that was pretty trivial to begin with. So we leave the theater with a chuckle and a sense that what we just saw was nothing more than an airy trifle akin to brightly colored cotton candy.

"Kaboom" is best at dealing with sexual stereotypes in a playful manner, but that might not be enough to turn it into the cult classic Araki is hoping for.

Companion viewing: "Mysterious Skin," "Splendor," "Liquid Sky"

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