Kaboom! (***)

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Filmmaker Gregg Araki is an acquired taste, to say the least.  He’s made some interesting films, but aside from Mysterious Skin, I don’t think he’s ever really succeeded at what he set out to do.  With his latest film Kaboom!, he has his second success.  It’s a minor success, mind you, but it’s a surprisingly fun and sexy movie about the end of the world (you read that right).  Yes, it’s super weird as well, but what other sci-fi sex comedy romp isn’t?  Araki is more ambitious than usual, and this ends up being a mix of Brett Easton Ellis and Philip K. Dick, with a bit of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales thrown in for good measure.  When you add in the spark-plug supporting turn from Juno Temple, you end up with a movie that defies expectations and ends up being better than I expected it to be.

Smith (Thomas Dekker) spends most of his days at college lusting over his roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) and periodically bedding woman as well.  He doesn’t believe in sexual labels, but is obsessed with placing them on others.  When not in bed, he’s shooting the breeze with his best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), who’s literally dating a witch (Roxane Mesquida).  At a party one night, Smith runs into London (Temple), who’s turned on by guys like Smith.  They quickly become friends, but at the same time, strange things are beginning to happen around Smith.  There appears to be a mysterious cult on campus messing with him, and when he goes looking for answers, he doesn’t like what he finds one bit.  The movie is light on plot until it goes into overdrive in the third act, but the sexual conversations and interactions are more than interesting enough to make up for that.

Despite being perhaps the least interesting character in the film, Thomas Dekker still turns in a fine performance.  Dekker sells the confusion of Smith well, never fully letting us get comfortable with him.  It’s not a flashy role, but it’s a good one.  Bennett gets to have a lot of fun with the role of the wise-ass best friend, and both Zylka and Mesquida are more than adequate in their supporting roles.  Kelly Lynch is also on hand in a few scenes as Smith’s mother, but the real highlight is Juno Temple as London.  She’s got a world of talent and you can’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on screen.  She impressed me with a small role in last year’s Greenberg, and she improves off of that here.  I can’t wait to see more of her, and with a role in The Dark Knight Rises, plenty of people will get to see her too.

Araki is a stylish director, and a stylized writer.  Both of these things mesh well together here (something he’s had trouble with in the past).  Mostly, the film succeeds because of a sense of fun that he has, besides his sense of ambition.  When the focus moves from sexual politics and teenage character study to a potential apocalypse, you have enough goodwill built up to follow him.  Araki is a distinct voice in independent cinema, and he continues to show why here.

Overall, Kaboom! is definitely not for everyone, but those who give it a chance will likely find it to be a modest success.  I didn’t love the movie, but I did enjoy it for what it was.  The pacing could have been better, but Araki pushes enough of the right buttons to make this a worthwhile and fun experience.  This is one of the more unique films of the year so far, and if that sounds good to you, then you should give it a chance.  You might be surprised with what you find…

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When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as “so you all don’t have to”. In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey’s a voting member of Indiewire’s Criticwire Network as well as the Internet Film Critics Association.