To the extent that Gregg Araki’s Kaboom makes for a saccharine, bisexual iteration of the college teen sex comedy, it is charming enough – if not all that funny. Its bubble-gum color palette, overindulgence in green screen “halo” effects and Abercrombie-built cast work in its favor here, and while the movie is distinctly adolescent in its concern with sexuality (don’t expect too deep a consideration of gender norms; “bisexual” here amounts mostly to a maximization of fucking, in the mathematical sense), this winds up housing a good deal of entertainment value. What “Kaboom” proves incapable of doing, unfortunately, is maintaining this silly buoyancy as the plot takes very weird, very sudden turns for the dark – which, charitably, I will read as a parodic jab at the (relatively) humorless “Donnie Darko”. Missing the mark in this endeavor, it winds up in a mess of genre crisis instead.
Smith, our hero, is a Jared Leto-looking college freshman who, whilst preoccupying himself over the sexual orientation of his auto-fellating hunk of a roommate, Thor, bewilderedly accepts invitations for lovin’ from just about everyone else he encounters, male or female. Foremost among those thrusting themselves at him is London, a straight-talking nympho with whom Smith senses a special bond.
The night that Smith meets London, he has unwittingly consumed a pot brownie. This results in (you guessed it) top-notch intercourse, followed, in a terrifying turn, by an apparently hallucinatory encounter with animal-masked men who, in a gruesome end, violently take the life of a mysterious redhead before Smith’s very (pot-addled) eyes.
Meanwhile, Smith’s best friend Stella has taken up with an enchantingly beautiful lesbian who, as it happens, is a bona fide witch – we’re talking voodoo dolls, inhabiting other bodies, and, yes, out-of-this-world cunnilingus.
In spite of the viewer’s laboring to naturalize these surreal plot turns as the stuff of Smith and Stella’s anxiety-prone imaginations, it becomes increasingly clear that there are, in fact, animal-masked men stalking our hero, Lorelai the lesbian does, in fact, possess supernatural ability and – this is the kicker – that redhead sure as hell was murdered.
From there, the world of “Kaboom” devolves into a hell of sinister forces – a murderous demonic cult, the doomsday device, and even incest (the revelation of which is taken by the participants with surprising laissez faire) plague our heroes. With Smith’s off-handed summation, “I feel this creeping sense of impending doom,” it would appear that we are in good form for a ripe parody of Jake Gyllenhaal and his wicked rabbit.
But alas, this proves an unwalkable tightrope for Kaboom. The issue, as I see it, is that when a story world turns topsy-turvy – indeed horrifically absurd – it must be re-coded for comedy rather than anxiety by the undergoing characters. Think of The Dude from the The Big Lebowski, who meets his unhappy fates with unthinkable aloofness, showing at most mild annoyance. Or the tragic heroine from Sam Raimi’s 2009 horror parody Drag Me to Hell, who responds to her suddenly demonic environment with all the franticness and terror that we would expect, therein allowing us, who are familiar with the formulaic genre in which she is stuck, to enjoy the film’s fully-expected turns at her expense.
In Kaboom, by contrast, our characters display only faint, often sarcastically buried concern. As a result, the movie fails to “re-code” and the anxiety produced by what has indeed become a truly frightening world remains in place, effectively euthanizing subsequent attempts at humor. When Smith asks Stella – quite rightly – “are you worried?”, her emptily (and uninspiredly) sarcastic response, “does Mel Gibson hate Jews?” provides us as little comfort as we imagine it provides him.
That said, the crowd at the Roxie Theater seemed to have a damned good time with the flick, and, if Araki’s gloating is to be taken at face value, Kaboom did receive a rather warm reception at Cannes. You can see for yourself in two weeks, when Kaboom receives wide release in SF. In the meantime, check out the indiefest website for upcoming screenings of other possible diamonds in the rough.