Director Gregg Araki’s latest film, “Kaboom” tells the story of a boy known as Smith (Thomas Dekker), a typical, horny college freshman having a strange recurring dream. After several elements from his dreams begin to infiltrate reality, Smith must attempt to piece together the puzzle emerging in his life. A late night encounter with a mysterious girl leaves him in possession of a jump drive with potentially explosive content on it – and leads him on a search to discover the identities of the animal masked men that subsequently abduct her.
A fascinating pastiche of nearly every cinematic stereotype (drawing on everything from science fiction to romantic comedy), “Kaboom” could be viewed as a gallivanting wreck of a film that attempts – and fails – to be the cutting edge of hip. And yet, despite this, it is a film intriguing for its many hallucinogenic qualities (both in cinematography and plot), and in its refusal to obey – or even acknowledge – the sexual standards of our times.
Drawing strongly on the supernatural, hallucinatory elements of such predecessors as “Donnie Darko” and “Twin Peaks,” “Kaboom” includes – like these – a strong sense of sensationalism. Perhaps it is this melodramatic streak that makes much of the film feel tired and clichéd. In spite of a sprinkling of current pop culture references it often feels like a transplant from the 80’s, an updated “Doom Generation.” “Kaboom” lacks the sort of self-awareness that would allow it to be categorized as satire, yet this is what it often feels like. It is a relentless romp of collegiate sex that left me wondering if that is what college is actually like (and I’d just gone to the wrong school).
Smith is helped throughout his wild adventures by snarky, lesbian best friend Stella (Hayley Bennett), and the sexually forward London (Juno Temple), both of whom seem to have his best interests in mind– but who can he trust, really? As he becomes further embroiled in the search, it becomes clear that his life – or at least his lifestyle – is at stake. How does Smith respond to this? The way any healthy young collegiate man responds to stress: sex. And lots of it. Never mind the gender.
Because of this, “Kaboom” has been lauded as a remarkably liberal portrayal of sexuality, which is no surprise really, considering that its director is Gregg Araki – famed for his high status within New Queer Cinema. Despite Araki’s seminal status within NQC and past films (including “Mysterious Skin” and “Totally F***ed Up”), which explored sexuality in a more serious way, the sex in “Kaboom” is relatively empty. There is no deeper message here; there are no answers or morals. It is all about the fun. As long as this fact is kept in mind, it is entertaining to sit back and allow the trip to take its course.