L'Horreur! L'Horreur!

Richard Kelly
Richard Kelly's high hopes for his new film were dashed at Cannes. (Eric Gaillard - Reuters)
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 27, 2006

CANNES, France -- Richard Kelly looks not good. His face is the color of a mollusk. He is as clammy as a gym towel. His eyes are these little itchy, red-hot BBs. He confesses that earlier he almost passed out.

This is his story.

(Perhaps young filmmakers should look away.) The wunderkind director of the indie cult hit "Donnie Darko" is making his first appearance in the rarefied competition category at the Cannes Film Festival with his new work, a political, apocalyptic farce called "Southland Tales," about the end of the world, set in Los Angeles in 2008.

The director of the festival, Thierry Fremaux, described it as "an audacious, musical, poetic and political futuristic film about the United States of tomorrow -- and therefore of today."

It is the worst-reviewed film at Cannes.

This portrait of dystopia is 2 hours 42 minutes long. It stars (believe me, this isn't easy for us either) Dwayne Johnson (the TV wrestler formerly known as The Rock), Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Seann William Scott (Stifler from "American Pie") and Justin Timberlake, who sings.

Plus: cast members from "Saturday Night Live." Did we mention the film is about the end of the world? And alternative energy, and the Patriot Act, and war, and porn, and stop.

Peter Bradshaw of the British newspaper the Guardian calls it the "festival's real clunker."

"The greatest disappointment so far this year is an easy choice," agreed Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. Time Out London's Geoff Andrew: "Morally and metaphysically confused, unfunny, heavy-handed and as prone to waste, excess, idiocy and decadence as the emphatically allegorical world it imagines, it comes across as the dopehead nerd hipster's alternative to 'The Da Vinci Code.' "

It actually gets worse. Ray Bennett writes in the Hollywood Reporter that when one of the film's characters "places a gun to his temple and says, 'I could pull the trigger right now and this whole nightmare will be over,' . . . every impulse screams: Do it!"

This is the horror of Cannes. There are 4,000 journalists and critics here. There are 10,000 film buyers and sellers. When they love you, the festival is caviar dreams and champagne wishes. But there is another Cannes, the bad Cannes, and when there is garbage in the pail, it can get downright insectoid out there on the Croisette. A brutal drubbing at Cannes may not only ding a young director's career, it can cause deals to unravel. Distributors get harder to find and offer less-lucrative deals. Some films just drift around the festival circuit, looking for love, never getting a theatrical release.

It doesn't necessarily mean the film will tank at the box office. The critics were blah on Ron Howard's "The Da Vinci Code." Some of them hissed at Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette." They didn't much embrace Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation," nor, really, his "Scanner Darkly."

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