Southland Tales


Mixed or average reviews - based on 26 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 7 out of 26
  2. Negative: 10 out of 26
Watch On
  1. Funny, audacious, messy and feverishly inspired look at America and its discontents.
  2. 75
    Delivers equal parts overwrought tedium and mind-bending beauty, spiked with brilliant throwaway images that more than make up for Kelly's heavy-handed hot-button pretensions.
  3. 70
    If it arrives in final form as (still) a total mess, it's such a passionate and ambitious mess -- overcrowded with extraordinary images, incomprehensible ideas, literary and pop-cultural references and colliding subplots -- that it transcends its adolescent awkwardness and approaches being magnificent.
  4. 70
    In its willful, self-involved eccentricity, Southland Tales is really something else. Kelly's movie may not be entirely coherent, but that's because there's so much it wants to say.
  5. Southland Tales has a mood unlike anything I've seen: dread that morphs into kitsch and then back again. It's a film that tried my patience, and one I couldn't shake off.
  6. To be clear: The odds are in favor of you hating it. I hated a lot of it when I saw a barely dry work-in-progress print, 163 minutes long, at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s 19 minutes shorter and better now, though “better” is relative when you’re dealing with a whatzahoozy such as this.
  7. 63
    Richard Kelly's Southland Tales isn't just a movie. It's an apocalyptic piñata that's been bazooka-ed open.
  8. 60
    Southland Tales pilfers large chunks of its plot and visual style from Alex Cox’s "Repo Man," Kathryn Bigelow’s "Strange Days" and Shane Carruth’s Sundance-winning "Primer," and unlike the makers of those films, Kelly hasn’t digested his influences and made them his own -- he’s more like the slacker college kid who’s just enough of an intellectual poseur to bluff his way to an A. That said, Southland Tales isn’t entirely without its pleasures, chiefly The Rock.
  9. You get the sense that Kelly is too angry to really find any of it funny. It's easy to empathize with his position, not so easy to remain engrossed in a film that's occasionally inspired but ultimately manic and scattered.
  10. Reviewed by: Damon Wise
    A bold and sometimes garbled take on modern American politics, this nevertheless marks an effective and surprisingly funny comeback for a film that many deemed to be DOA.
  11. Reviewed by: Andy Spletzer
    It's an ambitious film, but that doesn't mean it's good.
  12. Love it or laugh at it, you will gaze on Southland Tales with awe.
  13. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    An ambitious hodgepodge that is all bang and bluster.
  14. Dizzyingly incoherent and subversively surreal, this sophomore effort from the man who made the great, strange "Donnie Darko" is certain to have its fans. I'm not going to be one of them.
  15. 42
    The further Kelly bends his funhouse mirror, the more he loses sight of what it was supposed to reflect. By the end, the image has twisted beyond coherence.
  16. Reviewed by: Mark Bell
    The film is just too much exposition, too long, too convoluted, too many characters and ultimately a huge disappointment.
  17. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    There's a lot of "stuff" here, and Kelly's biggest problem -- he's got more than a few -- is that he can't tell his good material from his bad.
  18. Southland Tales does have enough energy and audacity to suggest significant potential. But was it ready for public consumption? The answer is no. It's as simple as that.
  19. The English term "shambolic" best describes a slow-paced, bloated and self-indulgent picture that combines science fiction, sophomoric humor and grisly violence soaked in a music-video sensibility.
  20. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Rarely has a picture been so self-consciously designed to be a culturally meaningful touchstone, and fallen so woefully short, as Southland Tales.
  21. May be ambitious in its genre-defying abandon, sideswiping science fiction, satire, film noir and melodrama along the way, but it's also exasperatingly convoluted, self-amused and politically sophomoric.
  22. You can't be both political and incoherent, and even though Kelly's models are "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Blade Runner," this vision of the near-future suggests a random blend of "Dr. No" and "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"
  23. 25
    I recommend that Kelly keep right on cutting until he whittles it down to a ukulele pick.
  24. A mess, and that's really a shame.
  25. Reviewed by: Josh Rosenblatt
    It appears that Kelly spent the intervening years (since "Donnie Darko") taking hallucinogenic drugs, reading Philip K. Dick novels upside down, and – most disastrously – believing his own hype.
  26. 0
    If a more incoherent and self-indulgent movie has been released so far this century, I'm not aware of it.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 72 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 46
  2. Negative: 12 out of 46
  1. [Anonymous]
    Jun 3, 2008
    Some people are too rigid, too mainstream, and too unimaginative. These people are the ones who gave a bad rating to this film. I've Some people are too rigid, too mainstream, and too unimaginative. These people are the ones who gave a bad rating to this film. I've never watched a movie in which I actually enjoyed not knowing what the heck was going on, being completely lost in the plethora of non-nonsensical plot lines. The end clarified some things, and caused other things to become even more convoluted, which was great. I loved all the cameos in this movie and the Rock and Stifler were amazing. Full Review »
  2. ChadS.
    Mar 20, 2008
    When an artist starts to believe his own press; the premature pronouncement by some overzealous fanboys(and a few critics) that the filmmaker When an artist starts to believe his own press; the premature pronouncement by some overzealous fanboys(and a few critics) that the filmmaker is a genius(and yes, "Donnie Darko" was very accomplished for a first feature film), it's no wonder that the "genius" would attempt to match that initial success, and therefore overreach with a project as wildly ambitious as "Southland Tales". As some of you may know, "Donnie Darko" was released into theaters the same week that the towers fell, and predictably, it tanked at the box office(people were too busy watching CNN) before DVD gave it a second life. The filmmaker acknowledges the historical context behind the first running of "Donnie Darko" by providing "Southland Tales" with a post-9/11 backdrop. Texas gets nuked. "Southland Tales" is an alternative history of contemporary America. The sci-fi this time seems forced(like M. Night Shylaman, who feels pressured to come up with twist endings), an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle a second-time around, when a pared-down "Southland Tales" might've worked beautifully as a straight-up political satire about our lives during wartime. The neo-Marxist group resembles a twenty-first century version of the Weather Underground, or, because the group seems to be largely composed of females, "Southland Tales" might be making a reference to the militant feminist movement that's rendered in Lizzie Borden's "Born in Flames"("Southland Tales" has the look of "Strange Days", and Katherine Bigelow was a "newspaper editor" in that cinematic manifesto of female empowerment), but with a difference: Cyndi Pinziki(Nora Dunn) is an adult-film director and Krysta Now(Sarah Michelle Gellar, a porn star; which acknowledges the fluid nature of feminist ideology. "Southland Tales" is very smart about how porn has infiltrated the mainstream. As for the sci-fi elements, the filmmaker's use of dopplegangers and California as a post-nuclear setting, calls forth to mind novelist Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Wild Shore". The final fifteen minutes of "Southland Tales" while undeniably beautiful, doesn't really make a lick of sense. This filmmaker could've gone the Peter Bogdonavich route and delivered a safe follow-up, akin to "Daisy Miller"(the film that preceeded this adaptation of the Henry James novel was, of course, "The Last Picture Show"), but instead, he threw down the gauntlet and made this rambling mess of a picture, which begs to be loved and hated in equal measures. Full Review »
  3. JohnF.
    Feb 14, 2008
    Without first reading the prequel graphic novel, Southland Tales will seem like the most random film you have ever seen. If you read the Without first reading the prequel graphic novel, Southland Tales will seem like the most random film you have ever seen. If you read the graphic novel first, Southland Tales will still be abstract, but it will also actually be coherent and comprehensible. Was this a mistake on the filmmaker's part? Yes. Is it eccentric? Yes. Is it a great story worth dedicating hours of your life to understand? Yes. I do not know any other filmmaker and cast who experimented this much with the film medium since David Lynch. Is it Lynch? No. Is it good? Yes. Is it easy to understand? No. Is the film meaningless? No. Like Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly does not coddle his audience in terms of narrative. Like a dream, you are going to have to piece it together after you finish viewing it. Do yourself a favor and buy the Prequel Graphic Novel and read it before watching the film! Then buy the DVD and let the film wash over you like a bizarre dream. At the end of the entire experience, figure it out. Full Review »