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Mysterious Skin Flick

Kaboom (2010)

Marianne Williams/IFC Films

It’s been widely asserted that “Kaboom” is a return to form for beloved New Queer helmer Gregg Araki after the one-two punch of his dark, emotionally ravaging “Mysterious Skin” and the lighthearted stoner midnight-movie romp “Smiley Face.” If so, one wishes the filmmaker had stayed away from his old self. Part sex romp and part mysterious fare centered on a cult, the film consists of two sides that are so incongruent they might as well belong to different movies.

Most engaging on a prurient level is the sexy tale of attractive indie collegians liberally swapping bodily fluids. Sporting eyeliner, a shaggy haircut and a propensity for shirtlessness, star Thomas Dekker cuts a lusty figure. Same goes for Juno Temple as Heather, protagonist Smith’s pretentious, sex-obsessed buddy. The sex scenes have an edge to them, a candid willingness to indulge in the pleasures of an erotic experience. Mr. Araki fills them with offbeat pretty people; and, frankly — sorry if this seems crass — there are worse ways to spend one’s time than watching these actors making love.

The movie gets into serious trouble when its narrative takes over. Mr. Araki is a lot of things, but he’s no David Lynch. So the descent into “Twin Peaks” territory has the feel of goofy playacting, strings of dialogue, forced “out there” scenarios (i.e. an evil lesbian witch) and endless speculation on what it all means conjoined without imaginative thematic or visual flair. It comes across as more of a tacked-on, superfluous detail than the heart of the story, the engine upon which it turns.

The details of the cult — the nature of its conspiracy, the methods it employs — are so underwritten that they barely register. By the end of the picture, it would not be a stretch to wonder whether the entire trippy, apocalyptic-endeavoring enterprise even happened given its overwhelmingly fleeting impact.

When “Kaboom” preoccupies itself with the supernatural, the bulk of Mr. Araki’s filmmaking energy mysteriously appears to go into determining which scene would be bathed in which primary color hue. The director better asserts himself during the sex scenes and manifold depictions of prettified, emo college life that are more his specialty, lending them a new age, quasi-spiritual feel. Still, the movie’s hot, bathed in an erotic glow, but horribly empty.


Opens on Jan. 28 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Gregg Araki; director of photography, Sandra Valde-Hansen; music by Ulrich Schnauss, Mark Peters, Vivek Maddala and Robin Guthrie; production design by Todd Fjelsted; costumes by Trayce Gigi Field; produced by Mr. Araki and Andrea Sperling; released by IFC Films. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Thomas Dekker (Smith), Haley Bennett (Stella), Chris Zylka (Thor), Roxane Mesquida (Lorelei), Juno Temple (London), Andy Fischer-Price (Rex), Nicole LaLiberte (Red-Haired Girl), Jason Olive (Hunter), James Duval (the Messiah), Brennan Mejia (Oliver) and Kelly Lynch (Nicole).


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