Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sundance ’11: Kaboom

For college kids, secret societies should only involve getting hammered after performing silly rituals. Unfortunately, Smith has stumbled across an apocalyptic death-cult intent on igniting nuclear Armageddon. It is kind of a bummer, but at least he never lets it cramp his sex life in Gregg Araki’s Kaboom (trailer here), which screens at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in advance of its New York opening next week at the IFC Center.

Smith’s orientation vacillates between gay and bi, but his considerable unrequited lust for his surfer roommate Thor remains constant. Though undeniably hetero, the dumb blond exhibits enough meterosexual tendencies to keep hope alive. About the only person on campus Smith wouldn’t sleep with is his lesbian BFF Stella. Acting as Stella’s wingman at a party, Smith eats a bad cookie, if you know what I mean. Much to his mild surprise, he hooks up with London—a chick. Soon thereafter, Smith thinks he witnessed the murder of a mysterious Red-Haired Girl from the party while tripping his lights out on the way home. There is no evidence to be found in the light of day, but strange occurrences seem to suggest “they” know he knows. Then things get weird.

This is a Gregg Araki movie, so there is more sex of various persuasions than an MTV show aimed at young teens. If you can deal with that, it is all rather amusing watch Smith, his platonic friend Stella, and friend with benefits London get pulled into a totally outrageous end of the world scenario. It turns out Stella’s new lover is a witch—not a Wiccan, but a real witch, and quite a possessive one at that. Meanwhile, Smith learns his father did not die when he was young after all, but succumbed to the dark side of the Force, taking over the doomsday cult he had been researching.

Despite its goofiness, Kaboom is rather bold in one respect, explicitly comparing Smith’s cultist father to L. Ron Hubbard. Most likely half of Hollywood will never work with Araki now, but he is probably less inclined to care than Ricky Gervais. Yet, the strange thing about Kaboom is that in between all the hooking-up and snappy snark, the secret conspiracy story is actually fairly tense, at least until Araki goes all-in with an outrageously over the top third act.

Even with his creepy unblinking eyes, Thomas Dekker makes a surprisingly compelling hipster protagonist. Clearly comfortable with acid-drenched dialogue, he establishes a nice bantering rhythm with Haley Bennett as Stella. Kelly Lynch also adds a welcome measure of mature tartness as Smith’s unsentimental mom, Nicole. She helps to compensate for the ridiculously broad (even clumsy) supporting turns from Chris Zylka as Thor and James Duval as “The Messiah,” their stoner R.A.

Though Araki is steadfastly indie, cinematography Sandra Valde-Hansen gives it a professional luster that rivals the disposable studio teen comedy of the week. Thanks to production designer Todd Fjelsted, Kaboom really has a legit campus atmosphere as well. Make no mistake though, those who look for things to be offended by will have no trouble finding them in the film. It is over-sexualized and nihilistic, but also more funny than not. Recommended to those who already know they’ll dig it, Kaboom screens at Sundance tonight (1/22), Monday (1/24), and Saturday (1/29) and opens real next Friday (1/28) at the IFC Center in New York.