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Kaboom (Greg Araki 2010) – film review

June 8, 2011 by Simon Kinnear in In Cinemas with 0 Comments

In cinemas Friday, coincidentally the same day as Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom.  If you like Jack Black, watch the panda movie. If you’d rather watch fit young people having sex and being sarcastic, then this is the one to go for.

Kaboom
(Greg Araki, US, 2010)

One half soft-porn Hollyoaks; one half Lynchian weirdness with animal-masked men. Which is great, until you realise all the effort’s gone into the first of those

Greg Araki was one of the enfants terrible of the 1990s indie set: a flamboyant queer provocateur whose deadpan tales of sex, violence and more sex saw him as much reviled (for being a pretentious poseur) as he was praised for his post-modern, taboo-busting wit. Eventually, he got all serious, made a film that everybody genuinely thought was great in Mysterious Skin, and looked set to become a Proper Director. And then he decided he was having more fun fucking around than being an auteur, and made Kaboom instead.

This feels more like the work of a young turk with a permanent hard-on and a headful of conspiracy theories, rather than an established fiftysomething on the verge of mellowing into elder statehood. It’s one half soft-porn Hollyoaks, revolving around the steamy partner- and gender-swapping sex lives of a bunch of college graduates; and one-half Lynchian art-horror, featuring animal-masked men, missing femme fatales and a lot of dream sequences.

Stylistically, the film has a borderline-amateur rawness that belies its formal playfulness. Araki has a home-movie editing kit, and he’s not afraid to use it, with scene transitions marked by the image bursting open into pixellated shards. Along with threadbare sets, over-filtered lighting and some terrible special effects, it often resembles like a student film, something hastened by the use of gorgeous young actors who look like they’ve stepped out of a catwalk, or a porn shoot. Only Kelly Lynch and Araki regular James Duval (aka Donnie Darko’s Frank the Rabbit) are halfway recognisable.

“Greg Araki’s weirdness in Kaboom remains defiantly tongue-in-cheek, with fewer scares than the average episode of Charmed…”

But the acting is pretty good. Haley Bennett and the British Juno Temple are vivdly sarcastic foils to Thomas Dekker’s wide-eyed hero Smith, a bisexual slacker-slut whose dick takes charge of what passes for the plot. There’s much flesh,but the sex is sexy because the talk is funny and the unapologetic lust natural.  Much as Araki might be trying to shock, all of this is rather sweet. But as the hare-brained innocence of Smith’s frolics makes way for headless corpses and gnawing paranoia, you can’t help but recall Bret Easton Ellis’ novels, especially Glamorama, albeit Araki’s weirdness remains defiantly tongue-in-cheek. A subplot involving a witch has fewer scares than the average episode of Charmed.

Remember that Araki made his name with films called Totally Fucked Up and The Doom Generation, and the final act might not be so much of a mind-fuck, as it piles on frankly ridiculous plot twists and the mother of all ‘extended mid-digit’ endings. Does Araki’s comedy apocalyse mean anything? Arguably, there’s a consistent satirical vision about teenage solipsism, since just about everybody Smith shags, from casual pick-ups to ongoing fuck buddies, is somehow involved in a bonkers religious conspiracy. Alternatively, it might be nothing more profound than seeing a director playing in his favourite sandbox. Either way, it’s strangely endearing, like a modern-day hipster equivalent to those late-period John Waters films in which he couldn’t be bothered to push the envelope and settled for lo-fi kitsch instead.

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