A film like Kaboom is rather hard to explain in mere words without getting sucked into a cycle of shrugging and shaking of the head. I’m a fan of director Gregg Araki’s dramatic work in the past, including such films as Nowhere, Mysterious Skin, and The Doom Generation. I’m not sure how the same person who made those films also created Kaboom, other than the overtly gay material therein. I didn’t even realize that he was the guy who directed the severely unfunny 2007 stoner comedy Smiley Face. And I’d prefer to continue not realizing that, because Kaboom‘s comedy is its strong suit.
I’m not so sure I’d ever refer to it as science fiction, however, although the first 10 websites I landed on described the movie as such. What it all boils down to is sex of all kinds wrapped up in a plot designed to add tension and mystery to give the sex subtext and plot development. The end of the world is nigh, or is it? Do you guys remember a little movie called Donnie Darko? Well, the same way that film was mispromoted as a horror movie is akin to Kaboom being marketed as a sci-fi comedy. Also, James Duval — Frank in Donnie Darko — plays a character called The Messiah, and the opposing force here are people wearing animal masks. No talk of Smurf sex lives here, though. Just the sex lives of everything else.
Smith (Thomas “TV’s John Connor” Dekker) is a sexually adventurous (but he doesn’t like being called bi) 18-year-old with a recurring dream that fills him with dread. His best friend is a lesbian named Stella (Haley Bennett), his roommate is a blonde dumbbell named Thor (Chris Zylka), and his new fuckbuddy is a kindred soul named London (Juno Temple) who sleeps with Smith because of his ambiguousness. Oh, and Smith’s self-involved mom (Kelly Lynch) is present when the plot needs her to be, and his dad died when he was younger. As a character, Smith is something of a sarcastic blank canvas, waiting for everyone else’s lives to bleed onto his to give it purpose.
He meets London at a party where he’s slipped some drug; at the same party, Stella meets and begins sleeping with a witch named Lorelei, who can apparently deliver oral sex to a woman with just her mind. And then Smith’s life turns on its head, starting with a red-haired girl (Nicole LaLiberte) who vomits on his shoes and is later murdered by the aforementioned men in the animal masks, which triggers a series of ominous events. Rather than hide out in a paranoia-fueled panic, Smith takes most of it in stride, finding more people to have sex with in the process. So what does all this have to do with a possible oncoming apocalypse?
If Kaboom were a truly terrible film, I’d tell you. But really, much of the movie’s enjoyment factor — beyond lines like “Sucking the fart out of a dead seagull’s ass” — plays on viewer expectations. The pacing is often in a perfect balance between perversion and diversion, and many of the things that inspire questions do get answers. Albeit these are the most ridiculous answers you can imagine. And the ending does not do justice to the enjoyable build-up.
I’ll remain spoiler-free here, but I can’t go through this without mentioning the film’s final minutes, which seem dreadfully comparable to a Bond villain’s final reveal as explanations pile atop one another. But then it ends in a most sublime fashion, and I began to second-guess the absurdly expository sequence and how inherent its tongue-in-cheek quality was supposed to be. In fact, I found my mind flipped on almost everything I didn’t like, wondering if my harsher judgments were premature, much like at least one orgasm in this movie. Loads of on-time orgasms though, pun intended.
While I’m not someone who is offended or turned away by any kind of subject matter, I often question the inclusion of gratuitousness for its own sake. And I think Kaboom indeed relies heavily upon the connections that sex allows, but the über-casual and flippant way attitude towards sex and using it to screw other people over hit me in the wrong way. Some of the instances pay off in strange ways as the film progresses, but I felt like a stodgy parent a couple of times. I just wish Araki, who also wrote the screenplay, had tied all the lewd behavior into the main plot, rather than just letting it feel like a cum-filled MacGuffin.
I certainly hope Araki gets back in touch with more straightforward storytelling in the future, but it’s good to know he can handle the more fantastical stuff with as keen of an eye. The early appearance of hallucinogens may wear off to the characters, but the look of the film retains that dreamy quality until the credits roll. It helps that there are about 50 dream sequences.
See Kaboom if you like: movies that play like rejected Bret Easton Ellis novels; Juno Temple’s breasts; dream sequences that, for better or worse, are much more memorable than your own; references to indie bands Explosions in the Sky and Helen Stellar.
Thanks for reading, guys! Check back next week for another new look at another non-new film, and remember that the next sex you have may be the last time you’ll ever have it. Get a good look at my past Giant Freakin’ Queue Reviews, which include Doomsday Book, Primer, and Ghost in the Mirror.