Araki is one of those indie-darling, festival veterans who has never really cemented the promise his earlier works showed into a sustainable breakthrough into mainstream cinema, even despite great critical acclaim for Mysterious Skin, and even some of his lesser known productions. And I for one always lamented a cross-over that might bring with it more Araki films, but I seems that I grossly underestimated the director.
No-one who left the mid-afternoon screening could possibly have been left in any doubt that Araki has no intention of ever making that breakthrough, or that he positively wallows in his classification as a fringe film-maker. Kaboom was a great big two-fingered salute to anyone who thought he might be making a conscious attempt to make widely accessible films in any way, and it was a ludicrous, incredibly confusing, but wildly enjoyable offering at that.
It looks like Araki has consciously moved back to his earlier loves, wild key changes and genre-blends that can be nauseatingly difficult to balance, while the presence of James Duval- Araki’s muse of sorts- is an even more explicit inference that Araki is shifting his tone back to somewhere around his Teen Apocalypse Trilogy- comprised of Totally Fucked Up (1993), The Doom Generation (1995) and Nowhere (1997)- and that the marked difference of Mysterious Skin was merely a meander from his real artistic manifesto.
My immediate reaction was a mix of utter bewilderment and excitement, for I knew this would be the most enjoyable review I have ever set out to tackle. That post-screening confused euphoria was in stark contrast to those I felt prior to it, as once again the logistical model for allowing press into screenings failed miserably, and I ended up being left to feel like a second class citizen because of the colour of my badge. Cant we all just get along?!
Anyway, the synopsis, for future reference claims the film flows something like this:
Smith’s everyday life in the dorms – hanging out with his arty, sarcastic best friend Stella, hooking up with a beautiful free spirit named London, lusting for his gorgeous but dim surfer roommate Thor – all gets turned upside-down after one fateful, terrifying night. Tripping on some hallucinogenic cookies he ate at a party, Smith is convinced he’s witnessed the gruesome murder of an enigmatic Red Haired Girl who has been haunting his dreams. What he discovers as he tries to find out the truth leads him deeper and deeper into a mystery that will forever change not only the course of his young life but the destiny of the entire world.
I am at a bit of a loss as to where to start with this, as there are a million things you can say about Kaboom, and much like the film itself, they just tumble over one another chaotically, grasping for attention. So, Ill start with the acting. Thomas Dekker, as lead Smith actually puts in a very watchable performance, and I can see him moving into more mainstream projects in the near future, having already appeared in My Sister’s Keeper and the recent remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. His on-screen best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) is initially just as good, though her Juno-like indie-talk, and tendency for filthy metaphors soon begins to grate badly, and her performance overall begins to really hit the tubes around the mid-point, from where it never returns.
The other female lead London, played by Juno Temple, of Atonement fame, looks incredible, particularly when she has her clothes off, it has to be said, but she sounds terrible. I was never certain where her character comes from, and it is ironic that she is called London, as her accent definitely kept wandering from America back across the Atlantic. She is a little full on in places, and reminded me exactly why hyper-sexed college girls drive me up the wall, and her propensity for sleeping with everything that moves became a little tasteless even for the most attracted member of the audience (that would be me).
Elsewhere, Andy Fischer-Price (like the toy) and Roxane Mesquida prove that casting actors on looks alone is not always a viable option if you want good performances out of them. It is, though, another more marginal character who grabs most of my plaudits- Chris Zylka, who plays moronic surf boy (with typically impossible good looks) is excellent in his role of humorous relief. For someone whose major credits so far have included the recently cancelled TV series version of 10 Things I Hate About You, and something called My Super Psycho Sweet 16, Zylka is great, and plays the brainless whipping boy perfectly. He is another one who I suspect may well find his feet in more and more upcoming film projects.
Oh, and James Duval’s in it. Being James Duval. For fans that means something entirely different to the majority of people who will inevitably think he couldn’t act his way out of a plastic bag. His stoner-guru routine is admittedly very funny, though.
But this an Araki film- and no one acting performance would ever overshadow the ideas that Araki himself visibly plays with on-screen, and they pale into utter insignificance against the ludicrous multi-coloured insanity-fest that is Kaboom as a movie.
In places the film feels exactly like a conversation between three stoners, which would have began “Dude, you know what would make an awesome movie…?!”, and would be entirely devoid of reason, stylistic convention and intelligible resolution, thanks to their cloudy minds and inability to develop ideas properly. It could have been at least four different films, so distinct are the different aspects, which would seem to be on-manifesto in terms of Araki’s tendency towards generic smorgasbords, though sadly at least two of the films wouldn’t have been even remotely watchable.
As far as I could discern, the first genre, and the most accessible and enjoyable for myself, was somewhere along the lines of Rules of Attraction or even Kids, with an intriguing look at the sexual awakening of a group of close-knit teenagers, which the first twenty minutes or so of film seemed to hint at wonderfully. The character portraits were dead on, with ultra-hip, quirky language, the behavioural rebellion of nest-flyers, and near graphic sexual scenes, all peppered with genuinely humorous passages, but it was not to last.
The second genre, of course was that of a form of supernatural intrigue film- think Donnie Darko, with magic more than hinted at, and odd, spooky goings on that could very easily have blended in with the first genre on show, with enough skill. But Araki patently has no intention of making the two mesh, and the flitting from one to the other was definitely unsettling (as one assumes was the intention). The third discernible genre was a sort of political conspiracy film, heavy on shady figures and a faceless organisation with the power of the world in their largely unsettled hands: in line with this genre, and presumably following stereotypical conventions, Araki seems to have made a conscious effort to break the world record for the number of times the old chloroform hanky is used on a character in one film.
The problem with the conspiracy side of the film is that its defining characteristics are far too main-stream to balance with the other two styles, and no matter how much Araki might have been intending to unsettle with the jarring swing of style and form, it just didn’t work, apart from getting a great deal of bewildered laughter throughout the audience. Admittedly this genre did offer the means towards the ending, which has to be seen to be believed, and left a brainless grin on my face all the way from the Palais to my new-found local, so it cant have all been bad. It’s just that up until the last twenty minutes or so, when things really begin to get odd, you can never fully suspect that Araki is playing with the audience, and trying to self-parody with the ridiculous blend of plot-strands, and the experience is a little uncomfortable.
More uncomfortable still, especially for someone whose early pornographic experiences were mostly just with the late night soft-core, soft-focused movies that Channel 5ive used to show on a Friday night- definitely aimed at the horny post-pub brigade, but I was never going to miss the chance to crash that particular grubby party as an early teen- was the fact that Araki seems to have in parts aped the obvious lack of plot that hampers even the most conscientious of skin-flick makers. There are a ludicrous number of times when Araki uses an extremely flimsy plot device to get his unanimously beautiful cast to shed their clothes, and start putting things in one another, which is usual for his work, but this time it felt a little forced. The sight of Smith’s mother seamlessly moving from exercising on one of those great big inflatable balls (the gag being that it sounds like she is having sex, and the subsequent reveal that she is in fact merely exercising) into responding to her trainer’s question of what he should do next with some lurid order to take off his “fucking clothes” was just plain unwelcome, and robbed the film of a genuine joke. And I’m sure I saw the same scene in something with far less artistic credentials than an Araki, and quite a few more naked bodies.
Sadly, despite showing some good ideas, and being a ludicrous, brainless thrill ride, there are a few technical errors that I feel Araki should have addressed before releasing the project to general consumption, which detracted from the more clever intentions of his very distinct style. There are a number of continuity errors, like two passengers in a car reacting to a supposedly bumpy road, but the driver remaining totally static, or certain unresolved narrative strands, including the disappearance of Roxane Mesquida’s character Lorelei which has no real explanation. And the otherwise goodl ooking visuals are often let down by very ropey sequences, which look at best like fan-made YouTube films, or the aforementioned car scene (which must rank as one of the worst car chases ever) or by terrible fade-outs that look like they are made for TV advertising slots. I just think it is a shame that a clever film like this, which is such a cinematic rebellion (and will probably never see a wide cinematic release as a result), falters on some of the simple film-making things that a non-first time director shouldn’t really make. And those are the things that people will point to when they are poo-pooing the irony of the project.
But I could forgive those errors, personally, because I enjoyed the mindless lunacy of the whole thing. Okay, so I wish Araki would make a film that sticks to the Rules of Attraction/Kids model, so I can tick off a tangible wish on the Movies To Be Made list in my head, but the unbridled silliness, and jarring switches of tone and genre were- oddly- hugely entertaining.
I’m still left with a lot of unresolved feelings about Kaboom, and would definitely urge anyone reading this review to go and see it if it ever gets any kind of cinematic release, or to buy it on DVD (as I’m sure a cult-like amount of people will eventually), simply to make up your own minds. I guarantee you will be flabbergasted.