by Glenn Lovell
Cravings give way to Craven (as in Wes) in “Kaboom,” the latest ‒ and certainly most playful ‒ indie from Gregg Araki, best known for “The Doom Generation” and “Totally F***ed Up,” two considerably more intense films about being gay in an often homophobic world.
Obviously in a “Hey, lighten up!” mood, Araki’s first film in three years is a freewheeling mystery-satire about friendship, flip-flops, campus conspiracies, paranormal activities and The Big Bang Theory.
Oh, yes, and there’s something here to satisfy every libidinous taste, hetero, gay or bi.
Araki has always been an equal opportunity voyeur. In his world it doesn’t matter how you get off, just as long as you do and, when it’s over, you’re comfortable in your own skin.
Smith (Thomas Dekker), Araki’s accommodating hero, is a college freshman who’s undeclared sexually but lusts after his god-like surfer dude roommate (Chris Zylka). When asked about his sexual preference, however, Smith smiles and introduces London (Juno Temple), his new lover.
Best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), a goth princess with a stiletto sense of humor, likes this about Smith, but what does she know? She’s sleeping with a voodoo-practicing witch (Roxane Mesquida).
Stella’s every utterance drips sarcasm. Stella on college: “an intermission between high school and the rest of your life.” Stella on dreams: “your brain taking a dump at the end of the day.”
Araki’s dialogue is peppered with such witticisms. Some are arch, most, like Smith’s beret, are painfully self-conscious. Such is the danger of directing your own screenplay: You refuse to cut when a line doesn’t play.
Once it’s established that dorm living is an endless series of “Oh, sorry, I didn’t know you were ‒” interruptions, Araki turns to the conspiracy portion of his plot, which has something to do with a disappearing redhead and a gang of assailants in animal masks. It’s sort of like “Vertigo” meets “Eyes Wide Shut,” with, once we tumble down the rabbit hole, some David Lynch and Stephen Hawking tossed in for good measure.
Shot on UC-San Diego campus in Day-Glo colors, “Kaboom” is best approached as a free-form lampoon of pop / high-tech culture. The dialogue includes references to SIMs, smartphones, Lady Gaga, Clay Aikin, New Order, etc., etc. After a while, the name- and product-dropping becomes tedious. Smith asks Stella if she’s worried about her witchy stalker. “Does Mel Gibson hate Jews?”
If you concentrate on the performances, particularly those of Dekker and Temple, and don’t pay too much attention to the conspiracy sub-plot, you’ll enjoy Araki’s latest. It’s doesn’t deliver cataclysmic laughs, as in “Ka-BOOM!” The humor is more like the pop-pop-pop of holiday firecrackers.
Note: There’s a bit of a brouhaha surrounding this film’s sex scenes, threatened with an NC-17 before Araki elected to release the film unrated. The flap is much ado about nothing. The couplings are amusing and not all that graphic, and in a world in which the MPAA didn’t beat up on low-budget indie filmmakers, they would have earned your basic R for raunchy.
KABOOM ✮✮ 1/2 With Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Chris Zylka. Written, directed by Gregg Araki. 86 min. Unrated (could be R for profanity, nudity, various sexual configurations)