'Southland' Imagines L.A. Apocalypse

The Associated Press
Sunday, May 21, 2006; 5:34 PM

CANNES, France -- "Southland Tales" imagines a Los Angeles on the brink of apocalypse in 2008, when the Internet is under government control, gasoline is replaced by something called "fluid karma" and the Democratic Party has splintered into neo-Marxist cells.

As Sarah Michelle Gellar's character puts it: "Scientists are saying the future is going to be much more futuristic than we expected."

Richard Kelly's followup to the cult film "Donnie Darko" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. "Southland Tales" is a 2 1/2-hour mishmash of genres: black comedy, action film, sci-fi, political commentary.

There's even a musical number where Justin Timberlake, who plays an Iraq War veteran, lip-synchs to a leg-kicking chorus line of Marilyn Monroe look-alikes.

Other characters are a porn actress (Gellar), a Hollywood action star (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a powerful senator and left-wing militants who hide out in a loft. The backdrop is the presidential race in 2008, when California is a police state and Republicans are all-powerful.

Kelly knew his movie would push buttons.

"The film is meant to be a tapestry of ideas all related to some of the biggest issues that I think we're facing right now, whether it's homeland security or alternative fuel or the increasing obsession with celebrity and how celebrity now intertwines with politics," Kelly told reporters.

The movie is "pop art, but it's political and it's aggressive and it's confrontational, and I think we need more art like that," he said.

The film starts with a nuclear attack in Texas on July 4, 2005, before it flashes forward to Los Angeles in 2008.

Kelly says he wanted to look at "how we would respond, how our country would survive and go on (after a nuclear attack), and to construct a great black comedy out of all this."

The plot is not easy to describe, to put it mildly. There are dozens of subplots, and everyone is double-crossing someone else. To sum it up, someone in the ensemble cast has to save the world from the apocalypse.

Wallace Shawn plays Baron Von Westphalen, a villain who harnesses sea waves into an energy source.

Gellar's character is having an affair with an amnesiac action star who is married to a senator's daughter. Seann William Scott ("American Pie") plays identical twins: one a neo-Marxist, the other a cop.

Other unusual casting decisions: John Larroquette ("Night Court") as a political crony, and a bleach-haired Jon Lovitz ("Saturday Night Live") as a gun-toting heavy, not to mention Timberlake, who narrates the movie.

"When I was casting this film I made a very conscious decision to find actors who I felt had been pigeonholed or put into a box and had undiscovered talents, basically," the director said.

Gellar gets to exercise her comedy skills as Krysta Now, a dirty-mouthed porn icon with her own clothing line, a talk show and an energy drink _ a branding concept she once thought was a stretch.

Since then, "I've watched America change to (reach) this crazy height of celebrity," Gellar said. "And it's been interesting _ what seemed ridiculous to us two-and-a-half or three years ago has slowly sort of evolved into something real."

© 2006 The Associated Press