Writer/Director Gregg Araki specializes in one thing: Films about attractive young people with supernatural problems boning each other. He’s made this type of film several times (“The Doom Generation,” “Nowhere”, “Mysterious Skin”) and each time he’s improved upon the formula. The young people of “Kaboom” are especially hot, extra supernatural and constantly boning. If you’re on board with this premise, “Kaboom” will not disappoint you. Otherwise, you’ll want to steer clear of this one, as well as the Arakiverse altogether.
Thomas Dekker (“the Sarah Connor Chronicles”) stars as Smith (his first name), a sexually malleable film student on the cusp of his 19th birthday. This erotic romp gets right to the Eros. Nearly every character that meets will have sex immediately, eventually or, at the very least, in a masturbatory fantasy. When Smith finds time to sleep, he has a vivid recurring dream involving his nearest and dearest as well as two strangers. The dream proves prophetic when he bumps into said strangers at a party. One is a lesbian witch named Lorelei who hooks up with Smith’s best friend, Stella. The other is a red-haired girl who is later murdered in front of Smith by some animal masked creeps. (Maybe. Depending on what was in that cookie.) Smith soon finds himself caught up in a cultist conspiracy in which he may play a pivotal role. Who can go to class at a time like this?
Araki really knows how to work a small budget, crafting a teen comedy that both satirizes and celebrates the genre. Every scene pops with candy rave colors and hipster hues. Asymmetrical haircuts and wild clothes beg the question: Is this what young people look like? Well, not exactly. And it’s not really how they talk either. The average teenager does not speak in snappy one-liners. But it is how Hollywood portrays them. And the look comes with a precocious, world-weary personality. Nowadays, kids must go into hair salons asking for “ the 30 Seconds to Mars” the way folks used to ask for “the Rachel.”
Though the mystery is somewhat complex and new characters pop up every few minutes, Araki is on top of it. “Kaboom” is well paced, effortlessly blending the sex and the sleuthing so there’s never too much of one or the other. He makes smart directorial choices that put “Kaboom” a cut above the films it alludes to. Freeze frames and novelty transitions could easily become conspicuous and annoying. But Araki’s use of them only adds to the whimsy.
As in the films it emulates, the characters of “Kaboom” constantly speak in snarky sound bites and custom slang. However, Araki’s take on it feels natural and even clever. Among Stella’s quips: “Nice hat, by the way. Are we in Paris?” and “Dreams are just your brain taking a dump at the end of the day. They don’t mean anything.” Haley Bennett delivers Stella’s lines in a way that lovingly recalls Veronica Sawyer in “Heathers“. I was surprised to see Dekkar play a character that isn’t at all whiny or tedious. It’s difficult to sell a line like, “I don’t believe in standardized sexual pigeonholes”, but it rolls off Dekkar’s tongue with adorable earnestness. Also adorable is Juno Temple (daughter of brilliant rock documentarian, Julian). Temple plays London, a free-spirited, sexually liberated party girl who has “a thing for gay dudes.” These actors do a fine job embodying some surprisingly three-dimensional disenchanted youth.
Incidentally, it’s refreshing to see characters in movies using brand-name internet services. Araki name checks both Google alerts and Facebook. I know Araki wasn’t going for realism or anything, but it always ups the silliness quotient of a movie when they use thinly veiled euphemisms for things people use every day. It’s easier to sell a wacky premise when the normal elements of the story are actually…normal.
For a while, there are so many balls in the air that it seems like the mystery of “Kaboom” might never be resolved. But it does pick up speed and culminates in a hilarious car chase scene that cemented my appreciation for this film. This may have been what Richard Kelly was trying to do when he made “Southland.”
Though I thoroughly enjoyed “Kaboom,” I do have one little request. Can we retire the response; “I just threw up a little bit in my mouth”? Somebody please get on this.