Folly, hubris, ambition, confusion, self-contradiction: how more American can you get? One of the glories of the sensory drench of writer-director Richard Kelly’s follow-up to “Donnie Darko” is just how marvelous it is at its moments of greatest over-reach. “Southland Tales,” a post-modern paranoid musical comedy reshaped since its largely dismal reception at its Cannes 2006 premiere, is a multi-tasking, hypertextual, grandiose, hallucinatory, howlingly vulgar, intermittently inspired, ungainly, unforgettable entertainment. (It almost seems that Kelly wants to outdo the Book of Revelation, one of his touchstones, for Byzantine prophesy.) Strange how “Southland”‘s relentlessly referential and self-referential universe resembles two other releases this week in their formal ambition and density, “Redacted” and “I’m Not There.” Set in a parallel universe a few years after the nuclear destruction of Abilene, in which the government controls the Internet (that is, overtly, rather than covertly with the collaboration of telecommunication giants) and “neo-Marxist rebels” given to quoting Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot, largely cast with “Saturday Night Live” performers, challenge the establishment, “Southland” is almost impossible to synopsize, and in this space, I won’t even try. But Sarah Michelle Gellar is pricelessly self-righteous as Krista Now, porn-star-turned-host of a TV show like “The View”; Dwayne Johnson is a terrific blank slate as an amnesiac action star given to twiddling his fingers in panic; the launching of a zeppelin over downtown Los Angeles by night is a major set piece, and when Justin Timberlake’s scarred Iraq war veteran breaks into song with The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” is so wrong it’s right. Imponderable conspiracies are described. Earthquakes strike. The national anthem is sung to Kronos Quartet-style accompaniment. “Repo Man” hovers above the scene. References to Philip K. Dick and Lyndon Larouche simmer. The line “I like to get fucked, fucked hard,” has a myriad of meanings here. “Get the fuck out of my ice-cream truck, you Cro-Magnon bitch” is pretty much all surface. Moby’s score is sweetly amusing. 136m. (Ray Pride)
“Southland Tales” opens Friday.