Director Gregg Araki is many things. Subtle has rarely been one of them. Provocative and undeniably talented, he is something of a rare beast in today’s cinematic landscape; he has somehow managed to keep making movies for the last 20 years despite only making one good film. Kaboom is not that good film.
Smith (Thomas Dekker) is pretty (and pretty vacant). He’s just started college, describes his sexuality as “undeclared” and when he’s not hanging out with his best friend, the acid-tongued Stella (Hayley Bennett), he’s lusting after his hunky but dumb surfer roommate Troy (Chris Zylka). When Stella abandons him at a party in favour of gorgeous witch (Yup! You read that right. WITCH!) Lorelei (French actress Roxanne Mesquide), he hooks up with the sexually aggressive London (the gorgeous Juno Temple) who, after riding him like Seabiscuit, kicks him out of bed (because she doesn’t do cuddles), sending him home. Wandering across the campus, a little bit drunk, a little bit stoned, he witnesses three black-clad men in animal masks stab a girl to death and passes out. Waking up the next day, unsure if what he saw was a drug-induced hallucination or an actual murder, he and Stella begin their own half-arsed investigation. Despite occasionally being sidetracked by bouts of energetic sex (girls, boys, a threesome) and Stella’s attempts to break up with Lorelei (who it turns out is an evil witch able to shoot lightning and possess people as easily as she can induce orgasms), the pair stumble across a conspiracy involving a powerful cult, that bears a superficial resemblance to Tom Cruise’s favourite belief system, and an end-of-the-world prophecy in which Smith just might be the Chosen One.
Since bursting onto the independent movie scene back in the early ‘90s with The Living End, a nihilistic road movie about two HIV positive gay men on a crime spree, Araki has been in the vanguard of the New Queer Cinema movement. Messy and chaotic, his films had a post-punk aesthetic and vibrancy that was missing in the films of other Queer directors like Todd Haynes, Tom Kalin and Gus Van Sant. If The Living End was a Queer take on Thelma and Louise, his next film Totally F***ed Up was more like a gay John Hughes movie while The Doom Generation and Nowhere were largely plotless, trashy exploitation flicks stuffed full of amoral beautiful people having explicit sex and committing graphic acts of violence. Then Gregg went and grew up and made a decent film, Mysterious Skin. Thought-provoking and moving, Mysterious Skin was an intelligent and harrowing exploration of child sexual abuse and its repercussions. Every the contrarian, Araki then made his most financially successful film Smiley Face, a dumb stoner comedy that sees Anna Faris eat some hash cakes and ride a Ferris wheel. After the acclaim of Mysterious Skin and the success of Smiley Face it almost feels like Araki decided to deliberately shoot his career in the face by making a film as shallow and empty as Kaboom.
Starring a collection of gorgeous young things led by TV’s John Connor (The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Thomas Dekker, Kaboom elevates vacuous to a whole new level. Everyone is beautiful and disaffectedly louche, the boys are, without exception, as dumb as a bag of hammers and Bennett and Temple get all the best lines, my favourite being Temple’s mid-cunnilingus “Dude, it’s a vagina…Not a bowl of spaghetti!”
To be honest, there are only two real reasons to see Kaboom. The first is that, for a gay man, Araki devotes a lot of screen-time to, well, lovingly showing a lot of Juno Temple. The second is the intermittently hilarious bursts of dialogue (Smith (while reading about the cult): “You ever heard of the New Order?” Stella: “The seminal ‘80s New Wave band?”). The script is nonsense. It meanders aimlessly for 70-some minutes before tying everything up in the last 10 with a Scooby Doo-style explanation and an apocalyptic ending seemingly inspired by Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. It’s impossible to care about the characters; you’ve probably stepped in deeper puddles. The sex scenes, while energetic, aren’t particularly sexy, the film is shot like a episode of 90210 and ultimately the film feels like rather a pointless exercise. If Philip K. Dick were alive today, tripping on mushrooms and writing an episode of Gossip Girl, he might come up with something like Kaboom. It still wouldn’t be worth 83 minutes of your life. Unless you desperately want to see the girl from the St. Trinian’s movies naked and talking dirty.
Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Roxanne Mesquida, Chris Zylka, James Duval, Kelly Lynch