Writer-director Gregg Araki, he of a slew of sexually polymorphic, '90s-set portraits of teenage disaffection1994's "Totally F***ed Up," 1995's "The Doom Generation," and 1997's "Nowhere"finally branched out in recent years with 2005's altogether more cohesive and mature drama "Mysterious Skin
" and 2007's loopy Anna Faris-starring pot comedy "Smiley Face." For his latest effort, the Skittles-colored "Kaboom," Araki not only reverts back to his old ways, but goes one notch lower with the kind of snarky, disingenuous filmmaking an amateur might create who's seen 2001's "Donnie Darko
" far too many times. Keeping his shallow, one-liner-spewing characters at arm's length while piecing together a loose plot that is, frankly, all over the place, Araki has missed the mark big time here. When the softcore sex scenes subside, why should we care about these people and, by extension, the bleak, sci-fi-tinged farce they've found themselves in? Indeed, not even Araki seems all that interested.
On the precipice of his 19th birthday, California-based college freshman Smith (Thomas Dekker) labels himself "sexually undeclared" as he pines for his blond-maned, sadly straight dormmate Thor (Chris Zylka) and hops into bed with pretty much anyone who shows him an ounce of interest. This is how he comes to meet London (Juno Temple), who doesn't seem to care that he is likely as gay as a pocketbook of rainbows; she just wants him for the sex anyway, even if she does kinda sorta grow to like him. When lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) starts going out with Lorelai (Roxane Mesquida)only to quickly feel smothered and creeped out by her witchiness and magical powersSmith is sure that he dreamt about her before he'd even met her. For that matter, he's also dreamt of a mysterious red-haired gal (Nicole LaLiberte), who he later witnesses being killed by a trio of strangers wearing animal masks. As Smith partners up with more acquaintances, he senses imminent danger surrounding him. It may even be, for that matter, the end of the world.
Visually hued to emulate a kaleidoscope and just about as empty of purpose, "Kaboom" features an impossibly good-looking cast being tugged and yanked through a screenplay that doesn't have a substantial thought in its head. The early sex-filled scenes, including a fantasy Smith has about Thor, are potentially pretty hot, but director Gregg Araki usually grows shy about the subject matter and pulls back on, really, the only reason there is to see the film. When he finally remember he needs to tell a story, he simply chooses at random disparate elements from better movies and blends them into a cocktail of chaotic nonsense and blather. At once barebones and impenetrable, the narrative hops from one scene to the next without any interest in coherently building characters or conflicts outside of the two-dimensional confines of its script. When all else fails, Araki has them speak with verbose, pop-culture sarcasm. With throwaway references to Lady Gaga and Mel Gibson just the tip of the iceberg, "Kaboom" is very much a product of its timeone that is destined to date itself in a matter of years, if not months. At the same time, Araki's mental state seems to be hopelessly stuck in 1995, albeit with a mocking attitude that doesn't give any credence to his ragtag bag of plot hooks or any credit to the people filling out his ensemble. It all seems awfully frivolous, an outcome derived by pretension and laziness.
The cast certainly look like they were chosen for, well, their looks, but the three leadsThomas Dekker (2010's "A Nightmare on Elm Street
"), Haley Bennett (2008's "College
") and Juno Temple (2010's "Greenberg
")make enough of an impression otherwise that one can tell they are better than the material. Dekker brings detectable signs of gravitas
to Smith, but his is a tabula rasa
protagonist whom the viewer never quite gets a handle on. He's a film major and, when not horny, he looks pensive. That's about all there is to know about him. As Stella, Bennett is likable in spite of her barb-drenched dialogue, the kind of girl with a caustic personality that shields her innate goodness; when it comes down to it, she'd fight to the death for a longtime friend like Smith. And, as London, Temple is cheerful and uninhibited, a fun-time beauty who takes a shine to Smith because, well, the jury's still out. Maybe she likes that he is as nice yet vacuous as she is.
"College is just an intermission between high school and the rest of your life," Stella tells Smith during one of their lunchtime chats. As "Kaboom" sees things, it's also an intermission from logic and reality. What begins as a lighthearted coming-of-age romp rashly dissolves into a montage of teenagers screwing their puny brains out interspersed with insincere hooey involving mask-wearing psychos, cults, psychic powers, and the apocalypse. As out-there as it is, it never feels like anything more than a derivative throwaway. Indeed, "Kaboom" isn't just a title, but the picture's ultimate punchline. The planet's annihilation has never been so ineffectual.