REVIEW: Gregg Araki's Kaboom Is the End of the World As We Know It, and We Feel Fine
Gregg Araki's Kaboom may be the most cheerful movie ever made about the impending apocalypse, a picture in which bed-hopping young people live each day as if it were its last -- because it very well may be. The picture is stylized, joyful, cartoonishly ominous and more than a little silly. But Araki -- whose last movie was the 2007 pothead comedy Smiley Face, with the great Anna Faris -- holds the reins firmly but lightly. For all its randy rambunctiousness, the picture is surprisingly well-controlled, rather than just a messy sprawl.
Thomas Dekker plays Smith, a college freshman who, when he's asked if he's gay or straight, replies, "I'm more undeclared." He's unnervingly attracted to his big, dumb (and straight) surfer-god roommate, Thor (Chris Zylka). But he sometimes succumbs to the charms of girls, too, and when London (Juno Temple), a loopy blond pixie in a feather bolero and red fez cuddles up to him at a party -- in the bathroom, no less -- he follows her happily into bed. To paraphrase Agnes Varda, One comes, the other doesn't. But Smith says he doesn't mind: With utterly sweet forthrightness, he tells her he gets a kick just out of seeing his partners feeling good. She refuses to buy this line, and expertly sets upon finishing the job.
In between classes (which, thankfully, we never see -- the principals are always having lunch on the lawn, or hanging out in their dorm rooms, or bopping around at a club) Smith hangs out with his best friend, a strawberry-blond neo-mod wisecracker named Stella (Haley Bennett); he occasionally gets together with London for quickie, noncommital sex; he moons first over Thor and then over Thor's equally hunky friend, Rex (Andy Fischer-Price); and he watches with amusement as Stella tumbles into a hot chick-on-chick affair with the sultry-scary Lorelei (Roxanne Mesquida). All these exploratory shenanigans may be fun, but they take place against an increasingly weird backdrop: Smith is disturbed to learn that an alluring redhead he's attracted to at a party has suddenly turned up decapitated; Stella learns that Lorelei is a witch, or perhaps more accurately, a devil-bitch demon from hell; and Smith is beset by visions of campus marauders wearing black clothes and low-tech but spooky-as-hell animal masks. What's more, the local campus stoner known as "The Messiah" (played by James Duval) delivers a creepy and mysterious note to him. It reads, "You are the chosen son."
Is Smith's wonderland of sexual discovery and experimentation going to be blown to bits by, of all things, the end of the world? Maybe. With liberal splashes of David Lynch-style surrealism -- and maybe a dash here and there of Southland Tales absurdity and Shortbus sweetness -- Araki weaves just enough intrigue around the characters' youthful hijinks to keep us guessing how it's all going to end. The look of Kaboom is intentionally exaggerated, with plenty of pops of '80s-style color -- there are lots of royal blues and hot pinks. (If the characters didn't have cell phones and laptops, the movie could almost take place in the '80s; it has a timeless, retro vibe.) And Araki has some fun with various food horrors: A seemingly perfect éclair, once it's cut open, turns out to be crawling with maggots; a messy pie stands in for smashed brains. It's all goofy stuff, played for laughs, but it's clear we've been catapulted into a world where things are not quite right.
And it's simply fun to watch so many beautiful young people at play. Dekker, with his eyeliner and sexy stubble, resembles a younger Jared Leto. (Imagine being able to write that sentence!) Bennett comes off like a chic, deadpan go-go girl. And the wispy Temple makes a delightfully matter-of-fact sex goddess. Kaboom is most charming for its easygoing attitude toward whomever coupling with whomever: Though its heart may be queer, it never shows disdain for straight sex. In one of its most adorable moments, London surprises Smith (it's his 19th birthday) with an unusual gift in bed. His face lights up, and hers does too. She knows what boys like, and it's her pleasure to bring it to the party.