Southland Tales (2006) (part 5 of 10)
This next part is going to be a little treat for everyone. Within the next fifteen minutes, I’ll have the pleasure of describing one of the few sequences in this film that actually works. Unfortunately, I’ll also have to describe one of most horrifying images ever to grace Western cinema. Ah, well, you know what they say about pleasure and pain. Onward!
As Boxer and Ronald drive on in their police cruiser, Ronald receives a call on his radio about a domestic dispute in progress. A helpful cutaway shows Zora (Cheri Oteri) and Bing (the makeup guy) back at their base, phoning in a fake call to Ronald, thereby letting us in the audience know that this is part of their plan. Good thing too, otherwise I’d have assumed Ronald was getting an actual call from the police, and then I’d get all confused and angry. Can’t have that with a serious film like this, no sir.
After confirming to Boxer that, yes, they might be getting into “some shit”, Ronald wheels the car around and heads for the disturbance.
Meanwhile, Dion and Dream, now wearing wigs, fake honkers, and buck teeth, prepare to start the disturbance in question. Unfortunately, they were under the false impression that their dispute required a backstory, so the suburban living room they’re in has been decorated with a “newlyweds in crisis” motif. The room is packed with cardboard boxes, they’re dressed like a bride and groom, and there’s a sad little wedding cake that must have cost $12.99 at Dairy Queen. This must be one of those minimalist weddings I’ve heard about. No guests, no reception, no priest or registered official, just boxes and cake! No wonder their marriage is disintegrating.
After Dream finishes her pre-acting affirmation (“Transform… Breathe… Dream.”), Dion turns to her and launches into a fight that is, quite simply, a work of art. Elmore Leonard at the height of his game couldn’t hope to match the verbal virtuosity of Dion and Dream’s clash of wills. To give you a taste of this sumptuous banquet of bombast, here’s the opening thirty seconds of their fight:
Dream: Yeah I fucked him!
Dion: Oooooh! [As in, “Oooooh, one-a dese days, Alice!”]
Dream: I fucked him real good!
Dion: Oooooh! You liked it?!
Dream: I fucking loved it!
Dion: Oh, you bitch!
Dream: I fucked your brother last night too!
Dream: I’ll fuck him in front of you too!
Dion: You’re a fucking slut!
Dream: Don’t point your finger at me!
Dion: Bitch, I’ll fucking kill you!
Dream: You kill me, I’ll get the fucking cops out here so fast!
Dion: How?! How?! How?! You’re gonna be dead!
Dream: I know people!
At this point in the proceedings, we check back in at Neo-Marxist HQ, where Bing tells Zora that “they’re so good at improv!” Satirical double-entendre, or a random collection of words thrown on a page by an ignorant, hate-filled man? You make the call!
The argument continues for a couple more seconds, with Dion making the trenchant observation that one should not marry a ho, for they cannot be made into housewives. After what seems like an hour of this, cut to Boxer and Ronald pulling up to the sidewalk outside… just as another police cruiser pulls up alongside them. Oh, goody! I wonder who this will be!
A close-up reveals the cop in the other car to be Repeat Offender Jon Lovitz… in shades and bleached hair? Really? Well, I suppose it’s time to hunker down for some tales of ribaldry and a few complaints about the lack of closure in Dunkin Donuts commercials.
Lovitz turns to our heroes, offering them a raspy, reptilian-like “Howdy.” Boxer waves back, while Ronald, as usual, chooses to undergo a panic attack in lieu of a greeting. Lovitz notes that Ronald is outside of his jurisdiction, thus informing the audience that all the police in either Los Angeles or the universe have been amalgamated into something called “UPU-2”.
Lovitz asks about the guy riding shotgun. Boxer, eager as a puppy at a sausage expo, pipes up that he’s doing research for his movie. Meanwhile, Dion and Dream’s fight has finally entered earshot, though Lovitz’s head-bobbing suggests that he hears sounds with his mind. Rasping to Ronald, Lovitz suggests that he “could use a little backup.” When Ronald insists he has the situation under control, Lovitz replies, “No, I think you could use a little backup,” with a steel edge of command in his voice that one would usually associate with high-ranking Nazis.
Man, I never thought I’d say this, but Jon Lovitz is kinda scary here. I thought comedians were supposed to be sunny, affable people with no history of violent behavior or abusive relationships.
The three exit their cars and walk through a Scottish moor-like fog bank to the backyard of Dion and Dream’s house. Lovitz, helpfully responding to one of Boxer’s asinine questions, lets us know that this fog is a by-product of the “tidal generator”, i.e. von Westphalen’s big metal spider out in the ocean. Hopefully, seeing as how Richard Kelly is an accomplished filmmaker, the fog will become a symbol and a metaphor for the presence of Baron von Westphalen throughout the movie, as he subverts and manipulates the intentions and plans of others. Or, we could just never see the fog again after this. Either’s cool.
The three pass through the backyard, shrugging their way through fog and greenery, the screen occasionally switching to the viewpoint of Boxer’s camera and back again, while the serene beats of Moby’s “3 Steps” wash over us. Okay, so far, so good. I’m unnerved by Lovitz’s character, and the scenery and music are telling me that we’re entering a realm of mystery, where anything can happen. In fact, it’s good enough that I’m willing to overlook how much this feels like a pop-flavored version of that scene in Mulholland Drive where Betty and Rita are sneaking around outside Diane Selwyn’s apartment. I’m nice that way.
Lovitz enters the living room through the wide-open sliding door in the back, closely flanked by the other two. Being a man of action, he immediately brings Dion and Dream’s argument to a screeching halt by snarling, “What the fuck is wrong with you people?” With this, Dion and Dream immediately stop and look down at their feet, like naughty schoolchildren called to see the principal.
Back at Neo-Marxist HQ, Bing asks Zora, “Is that Ronald?” He gets shushed. I’m beginning to wonder what this guy is like on road trips. Is he always going, “That traffic light is tall,” “Have those cars stopped?” and “Does the green light mean we can go?”
So, put yourself in Dion and Dream’s situation here. You’ve concocted a half-baked plot to affect a presidential election by staging your own deaths, and you’ve set up an elaborate scenario where you both pretend to argue, only to be gunned down by a pretend racist cop. Unfortunately, when you set your plan in motion, an actual cop with a chip on his shoulder shows up. Neither you nor your friend want to go to jail. Do you…
- Quickly improv with your friend that the cop’s sudden appearance has scared the both of you straight. You both offer apologies, act embarrassed, make fulsome promises that it’ll never happen again, then get the hell out as soon as he leaves, or…
- Quickly improv that you, your friend, and the “racist cop” you have working for you are filming a low-budget/YouTube movie. You act surprised that an actual cop has shown up, and you quickly explain the “situation” to him. Act real nice and innocent towards him. After he leaves, get the hell out of there.
The correct answer, of course, is 3) Poetry Slam! Dream steps forward and proceeds to lay these heavy rhymes on Lovitz:
Fascist dogma applied!
Revolution by surprise!
My vagina will not be denied a vote in your subjective election!
That’s an original poem! By Dream!
In response, Lovitz whips out his service pistol and shoots Dream in the chest, killing her instantly. Um, wow. I mean, I hate revolutionary left-wing poetry as much as the next guy, but holy crap, man! After a quick cut to Bing pressing a firing stud, the squib on Dream’s abdomen bursts with a sad little pop.
“Dream over,” Lovitz purrs. Oh yay, we’ve got a crazy man on our hands here! Lovitz turns his attention to Dion, who has the pained expression of a man who has realized too late that this shit just got real. Lovitz promptly shoots Dion in the heart, and once again, Bing detonates the squib.
Lovitz offers his parting quip: “Flow my tears.” Which means… something. C’mon, a pretentious movie with lots of postmodern storytelling and sci-fi themes, and the policeman says, “Flow my tears.” I know it’s just gotta mean something!
Unfortunately, neither Boxer nor Ronald have the capacity to appreciate random acts of brutality, and both stare slack-jawed at the proceedings. After Boxer squeaks that the two weren’t armed, Lovitz grabs Boxer’s camera and turns it on him, informing him, “This is my deal now. Now get the fuck out of here. Santarrosss.”
And here, much to our horror, we’re given out first look at Boxer’s “panic face”, and it truly is something to behold. I don’t really have many issues with Dwayne Johnson in this movie, and I do like that he was trying to broaden his range with an atypical role, but here he’s just so over the top that it ruins the experience (such as it is) for me. He bugs his eyes out, develops a prominent facial tic, and begins hyperactively tenting/twiddling his fingers again. While this was probably intended to show his movie-star persona being blown away to reveal a scared, lonely child underneath, in practice it just makes him look like he’s transforming into a giant squirrel.
Of course, from what we’ve seen of this movie, this could be Richard Kelly’s intention, and the next 110 minutes of the movie will be set in a giant oak tree where everyone wears squirrel costumes and whips acorns at each other. But Wise Old Mister Owl knows that by Sharing and Caring, Boxer can return to the human world, and the inhabitants of the Munglebump Wood can live together in…
Ahem. Sorry about that. Awright, Druzhkov, just stay focused, you only have… ten minutes left?! Aw, crap.
After Boxer flees the premises, Lovitz turns to Ronald and says, “You’re not really here.” Oh, I guess the movie wants to be a Sam Beckett play now! Ronald, nearly in tears, asks, “Who am I?”
Lovitz, who apparently has the need to jerk around with everyone, replies, “None of your business. Now get the fuck out of here.” And suddenly, for some reason, I miss my dad.
And then our semi-conscious narrator Pilot Abilene returns to tell us the following.
Lovitz’s name is “Bart Bookman”? Seriously, what the hell is up with the names in this movie? “Boxer Santaros”? “Krysta Now”? “Pilot Abeline”? “Baron von Westphalen”? Is Richard Kelly trying to beat P.G. Wodehouse‘s record for the greatest number of crazy names used in a single narrative? If he is, then he should know that Bingo Little, Corky Pirbright, and Augustus Fink-Nottle do not take this sort of challenge lying down. Ayn Rand took a shot at that title back in the 1950s, and she barely got out alive.
Back at the house of blood and fear, Boxer has paused in meditation on the sidewalk behind the house. Ronald comes running out, and they turn to look at each other, prompting Boxer to start whispering inaudible rapid-fire patter that would probably explain everything we’ve just watched.
In response, Ronald mutters “shit” and runs to his police cruiser. Boxer makes a beeline for the other end of the street. After some blurry-camera effects akin to the ones used for Roland’s POV shots earlier, Ronald is now in his cruiser, driving off in a panic. Bing and Zora ride out on rollerblades. And after watching this scene for the sixth time, I’ve just realized that Ronald has stolen Bookman’s cruiser without really noticing. I’d normally think this was a blooper, but I can’t honestly tell anymore. It’s probably symbolic. Not of anything, mind you. Just symbolic.
Meanwhile, Boxer has reached the end of the road, when his cell phone starts ringing. In a panic, he rips off his jacket, shirt, and Kevlar vest like he’s been bathing in fire ants, only to find his phone clipped to his belt. Ah, komedy, my dear, dear, friend, how I missed you.
Boxer answers the phone, and a cutaway reveals the caller to be Starla von Luft, down at USIDent, asking for Jericho Cain. After Boxer confirms that he’s Cain, Starla identifies herself as Dr. Muriel Fox, speaking with the measured tones and even pacing of a veteran of community theater. Starla, or Muriel, or whatever, informs Boxer, or Jericho, or whoever, that his hypothesis was correct, and that “a corruption in the tidal drag has caused a rift in the space-time continuum” over Lake Mead. She says that “they’re” listening, and tells Boxer to call another number, which her workstation screen implies is that of Vaughn Smallhouse (or John Larroquette’s character, for those of you reading along at home). Wow, this movie is really starting to get to me. Kelly just randomly spliced in two pages from another script, and I don’t even care anymore. The rest of my section should be a breeze.
With that, we cut to a CGI landscape that appears to have been rendered by a high school industrial design class for a year-end project. Think sub-par Reboot, and you’ll be in the ballpark.
The scene is an immense suburb, with a blocky black SUV in a driveway to the left, and a tan SUV in a driveway to the right. The oceanic reactor complex (now referred to as the “Utopia Three Reactor Complex,” for simplicity’s sake) is in the background. After a moment, a rippling wave of something-or-other pulses from the top of the reactor, and sweeps over the suburb. Suddenly, the black SUV starts up by itself, angling its rearview mirror to get a better look at the tan SUV. Okay, this is a little weird, but I’m willing to see where this is going.
The black SUV pulls out of the driveway and drives up behind the tan one, stops, then proceeds to unhinge its front wheels and drive up over the back of the tan SUV. Ah, I suppose this is a showcase of the car’s off-road abilities. Impressive.
After that, the black SUV proceeds to unhinge its rear wheels, and plants them down on the ground like feet, while the exhaust pipe grows longer and begins to snake under the car. Well, that’s a little strange. I wonder what this could mean.
There’s a shot of the exhaust pipe of the tan SUV, which for some reason has started to iris open and closed, looking sort of like a vertical mouth, or a…
Oh, God no.
Oh, please no. No. Tell me that isn’t happening, that it’s not possible, that it’s not oh no oh no oh no no no no no nononooooOOOOH MY FREAKING GOD I AM WATCHING TWO CARS FUCK EACH OTHER AND HOLY CRAP HERE COMES THE PENIS EXHAUST PIPE OF THE BLACK TRUCK INTO THE VAGINA PIPE OF THE TAN ONE AND YES YES THERE’S MOANING AND GROANING AND CHASSIES ROCKING BACK AND FORTH AND HEAVY BREATHING AND I HATE YOU RICHARD KELLY FOR MAKING ME WATCH THIS YOU PERVERT BASTARD DIE DIE DIE I KILL YOU SCUM.
Seriously, was this supposed to be “funny”, or “ironic”, or what? Was it supposed to have a satirical point, or symbolize something, or provoke some type of emotion in me beyond revulsion? Or did Richard Kelly just put that in solely to make me cringe and wonder if the Puritans actually were on the right track? If so, then FISSION MUCKING ACCOMPLISHED!
The commercial closes with a pun, as a voiceover woman says, “The 2008 Treer Saltair. Coming… soon.” Beautiful.
(NSFW) Do not click on this video. If you do, you’ll have only yourself to blame.
The camera pulls back, revealing that the commercial is being shown in the mansion of the Frost/Santaros clan, where Baron von Westphalen is entertaining a few of his closest friends. The camera flips around to reveal Bobby Frost, Vaughn Smallhouse (John Larroquette), and Mandy Moore in a blonde wig. All of them appear to be in the initial stages of memory suppression.
Bobby, ever the wordsmith, asks Vaughn, “Did I just see two cars pork each other?” Oh, Bobby, always cutting to the heart of the matter. I love you.
Currently, they’re all flanked by Inga von Westphalen and Dr. Soberin Exx (Curtis Armstrong). Inga sarcastically replies “Indeed,” while Vaughn obfuscates by suggesting that the commercial is only for the European market. That’s Europe, serving as America’s all-purpose symbol of degeneracy and lax moral codes since 1615. Ask for it by name!
Mandy Moore declares the commercial to be disgusting, and heads for the exit. Don’t worry, folks; She’s not getting out of here that easily.
Meanwhile, the Baron has decided the time is right to give an angry little speech. Wallace Shawn, take it away!
It makes no sense, and his delivery makes him look like he’s about to have three simultaneous strokes, but damn, I love a crazy Wallace Shawn speech. It’s like watching Steven Seagal try to reason with someone, or Al Pacino when the director tells him to “go with what’s comfortable.” Whenever you see it, it’s always pure gold.
As the scene draws to a close, Vaughn receives a call from Boxer, still calling himself “Jericho Cain”. Vaughn quickly figures out who he is, and tells him to go to a restaurant called the “Baja Cantina”. Vaughn tells Dr. Soberin to pick him up there.
A brief interstitial follows, with a news story being displayed on Pilot Abeline’s turret terminal, all about a group of apocalyptic cultists boarding a cruise ship. Meanwhile, some strung-out hippie chick babbles on about how Dion and Dream were murdered.
And there’s a short scene with Cyndi Pinziki, Teri Riley (AKA the butch lesbian chick from earlier) and Krysta Now, presumably at Cyndi’s house. Cyndi tries to call Boxer’s agent in order to blackmail Boxer, only to discover that the receptionist won’t give her the time of day. Teri sits in the corner, smokes a bong, and discusses how the shit of Hollywood managers stinks, even though they act as if it does not. She also says “shit” a few more times. Krysta enigmatically warns them that, despite appearances, Boxer is not the man they think he is.
Another scene follows, with Boxer being picked up in a limo by Soberin. The next scene shifts to USIDent HQ, where Nana Mae Frost is watching the police poking around Dion and Dream’s dead bodies, triumphantly declaring that they’ve found the leaders of the Neo-Marxists movement. Also, they let us know that Dream’s real name was “Veronica Mung”.
A quick shot shows the six screens in front of Nana Mae’s workstation, displaying (from left to right, then down), a crowd of protesters, Officer Bookman talking to the camera, his finger covered in spirit gum from Dream’s facial prosthesis, another crowd of protestors, a helicopter shot of L.A. at night, some guy getting his thumb cut off with a pair of pliers, and another helicopter shot of the L.A. night skyline.
The preceding action took a little over 300 words to describe. On screen, it feels like twenty minutes. This is not a good film.
And then it’s back to the adventures of Boxer’s pal, Ronald Taverner, as he sits in his cruiser with Zora and Bing. Ronald, nearly in tears, informs Zora that Dion and Dream are dead. Zora, currently on the “up” part of her mood swing, tells “Roland” that they were just using blanks and squibs. Being a smart cookie when the script calls for it, Ronald instantly notices Zora’s slip-up, and accuses her of lying to him about everything. At the same time, Bing pipes up that he doesn’t want to be involved with the Neo-Marxists anymore, and he’s just gonna go on home.
So, a woman with a massive amount of repressed anger and a psychotic personality has just been told off by two close male acquaintances, both of whom don’t want to be around her anymore. Let’s see how this ends!
Through clenched teeth, Zora tells Bing that it’s okay to leave, and to “take care now.” As he gets out of the car and rollerblades away, Zora stabs Ronald in the neck with a massive needle, and then shoves his unconscious body into the street while screeching “The fuck out!” She then drives off.
Bing turns back to look at the cruiser speeding away, then returns to rollerblading until he reaches a four-way intersection. As anyone with a brainstem could have predicted, Zora comes peeling out from stage right, runs over Bing, then backs over his lifeless body.
By the way, according to the story, the Neo-Marxists are the good guys. Just thought I’d remind everyone of that. It’s so easy to forget sometimes.
As we roll to the one-hour mark, Roland Taverner (the real Roland Taverner… or is he??) is asleep in his dumpster, and his right hand is starting to glow. Pilot Abeline’s narration returns, vaguely quoting Revelations 20:2 (“For it will never be night again, and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, for the Lord God will be shining upon them, etc. etc.”)
As Pilot narrates, there’s a quick cut to Ronald lying in the street, then to Roland stirring and looking at his hand, then to Zora skating by the dumpster, then back to Roland as he chuckles and gives himself the finger, while his hand radiates the Love of God, or something. Well, it’s nice to see Seann William Scott was able to finally put some of his experiences on American Pie to good use.
With that, Roland leaps out of the dumpster and runs down the street, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and eager to encounter the new day.