As spacey as its title suggests, Gregg Araki's latest youth film is an occult mystery set in the ultimate SoCal college playpen. Kaboom is Scooby-Doo with sex, drugs, and tattooed hotties; following on the heels of Araki's relatively commercial stoner farce Smiley Face (2007), the movie makes you wonder whether Mysterious Skin (2004), his surprisingly serious and emotionally subtle evocation of pedophilia, was basically a one-off.
Now 51, Araki seems nostalgic for the self-characterized irresponsibility that was his youthful trademark. In introducing his latest film at Cannes, the director cited his great precursor John Waters's request that he make "another old-school Gregg Araki movie," and Kaboom shows him nearly as rambunctious as he was in the early '90s, when he burst upon the indie scene as the leading bad boy of the New Queer Cinema.
Like Nowhere (1997), the Araki film Kaboom most resembles,
teenage fantasy runs rampant. There is ample reason to assume the movie
is a dream of college by "ambisexual" freshman and would-be
cinema-studies major Smith (Thomas Dekker). The antiseptic dorm rooms
are ultra-Ikea, and everyone in this demographically homogeneous,
perfectly coiffed world seems to be 28.
The kids party all night and pass out in class; Smith has a hunky surfer
roommate named Thor (Chris Zylka), who sits down on his bed naked and
says, "I've never kissed another guy before" -- wait, that is a dream!
Thor is actually a happy hetero slob who bursts into the room to "plow"
some equally hammered coed and is subsequently surprised by Smith,
attempting to suck his own dick.
What is college if not the place to discover your sexual identity?
Adults don't exist except for Smith's too-cool-for-school mother (Kelly
Lynch, the secret star of Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy), who, when he
finally phones home, acknowledges him with, "Well, it's about time,
asshole." Smith's cool and bitchy best friend, Stella (Haley Bennett),
comes all undone when she becomes involved with the campus witch,
Lorelei (Catherine Breillat veteran Roxane Mesquida).
Smith eats a magic cookie and goes to a party where a red-haired girl of
mystery (Nicole LaLiberte) heaves on his shoe and he's picked up in the
bathroom by the honey-haired London (Juno Temple) -- her line is to ask
him if he'd like to fuck. As in a dream, everyone is totally blunt: "If I
come any more tonight, my cooch is gonna break," Stella tells the
ravenous Lorelei. (The dialogue seems to have been written by a
disinhibited Todd Solondz.)
With its pop colors and compositions -- including a giant closeup of
mac-and-cheese -- Kaboom is a garish billboard for id unbridled, filled
with wicked one-liners, relentlessly over-the-top in the tradition of
John Waters, George Kuchar, and underground comix. The action more or
less proceeds from one bed to the next -- the sex embellished by
mysterious tantric star bursts and outlandish setups. (One orgasm is
framed as if it were a crucifixion.)
The tone is mildly didactic in its defense of sexual variety or, more
often, simply comic. "To clear my head, I went to this nude beach,"
Smith tells Stella, explaining how he hooked up with an apparent surf
bum who claimed to be a professional hot-tub designer. Paradise is
breached when Smith stumbles over the red-haired girl being chased by a
gaggle of demonic frat boys in animal masks.
Araki doesn't quite have the social-networking thing down, but as cults,
conspiracies, and secret identities proliferate, he seems to have taken
a long look at Richard Kelly's Southland Tales and possibly the
apocalyptic Max Fleischer cartoon KoKo's Earth Control.
Kaboom does have
an excellent punch line, although even at 86 minutes it feels too long --
mainly because Araki can't help letting his camera linger over his
performers. Hard to blame him -- he's assembled the best-looking cast in
town, and it's largely his gaga fetishization that makes the movie so
Kaboom screens at Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables) this to Thursday, March 31. Visit coralgablescinemateque.org. Tickets cost $10.