In 2004, Gregg Araki stunned his fans and international critics with a brilliant little film, Mysterious Skin, a searing adaptation of Scott Heim's cult novel concerning child abuse, cow abuse, being gay, hustling, and grasping for affection.
Before achieving this cinematic feat, Araki helped kick off the New Queer Cinema movement with The Living End (1992), a poorly acted, technically uneven, yet audaciously brave feature about two hotties with AIDS who decide to become Bonnie and Clyde.
What followed was a string of low-budget, oddly enthralling films about highly attractive, horny young folks who coupled with anybody no matter their gender. If the drugs and drinks were available and potent, any action that felt good was worth committing. My favorite is The Doom Generation (1995), an erotic adventure that blesses us with James Duval, Johnathon Schaech, and Rose McGowan copulating and committing bloody crimes. The finale, which includes a castration, I believe, has been deleted from the DVD version. Possibly, that final cut caused Roger Ebert to award Doom Generation zero stars and this vile verdict: "This is the kind of movie where the filmmaker hopes to shock you with sickening carnage and violent amorality, while at the same time holding himself carefully aloof from it with his style."
Well, I never ever thought I'd be concurring with Ebert on Araki. Sadly, it appears this once promising talent has shot his creative load with Skin. Since then he has helmed the abysmally unfunny Smiley Face and now Kaboom. The latter is a soft-core porn venture that even beautiful faces and toned bodies in nearly every frame can't rescue from being drearily irksome. With a vacuous screenplay, a lack of directorial skills, and third-rate editing, Kaboom plops mightily.
The tale begins with bisexual, 18-year-old freshman Smith (Zac-Efron-wannabe Thomas Dekker) nightly dreaming about walking down a lengthy hall naked, passing staring friends and pointing strangers on the way until he finally reaches a door with the number 19 on it.
Meanwhile, his lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) is dating a psychotic witch, and his surfer-boy straight roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) is learning how to blow himself. Add criminals in animal masks, a father who might just want to blow up the world, and lots of sex, and you wind up with an intellectually bankrupt enterprise without any fizzle or wit. The dialogue seldom rises above "Suck a fart out of a dead seagull's ass." Araki, who must be applauded at least for brazenly championing bisexuality, really should have saved the title of his 1994 effort for this one: Totally Fucked Up. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Queer Theater" and "Intro to Mass Communications" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).