As I walked out of the screening of Kaboom, I ran into a friend who was complaining about the film before we even made it to the elevator: "Close-up, medium shot, close-up, medium shot. That's all it was. Where's the imagination?"
To which I'd say: Sure, from a purely cinematic standpoint, there wasn't a lot of variety. And yet, having felt both hot and cold about Gregg Araki's films in the past, I found myself digging the vitality, the aliveness, the mischief and wit of Araki's script and ideas.
My belief that cinematic virtuosity should be given no more weight than the film's script will have to wait for another day. But I definitely feel that about Kaboom, a consistently enjoyable and enjoyably snide look at that generation that is coming to be known as Millennials -- for which hooking up is as casual a thing as eating lunch. They may have social consciences -- but they don't let it get in the way of a good party.
To be sure, Araki's film is slight and sometimes silly. Yet it is never dumb. His central character is Smith (Thomas Dekker), a good-looking ambisexual college student at what appears to be one of the newer California state colleges. He fantasizes about his impossibly hot surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), the kind of guy who uses the internet to find out how to fellate himself -- and then seems unembarrassed to be caught in mid-attempt.
Smith's best friend is Stella (Haley Bennett), a lesbian who has a hot date with a fellow co-ed who may or may not be a witch. Smith accompanies her to the school dance, where he hopes to hook up himself so he can take his mind off his roommate.
He's also hopeful that he can stop obsessing on a frightening dream he had, involving several people from his life, as well as a pair of women he doesn't know. But that's unlikely, since Stella's date turns out to be one of the women from his dream.
After he is unknowingly (but, seemingly, purposefully) dosed with Ecstasy, he runs into the other woman from his dream, who promptly vomits on his shoes. He offers to walk her home but, on the cross-campus ramble, he has an unnerving encounter that may or may not be a hallucination.
Specifically, he and the girl (Nicole LaLiberte) are surrounded and assaulted by a group of strangers dressed in black and wearing animal-head masks. Smith witnesses her murder, then is rendered unconscious -- and wakes up on the same spot alone, unsure whether he actually experienced the events he remembers.
Yet Araki doesn't go all Parallax View on us. Instead, Smith hooks up with a good-looking blonde named London (Juno Temple), who bluntly asks him to take her to bed. Which doesn't stop him from hooking up with a good-looking black man he meets on a nude beach. Smith is obviously a not-so-obscure object of desire to the world in general.
That world seems far away from the campus world where Smith exists. Yet what passes for the real world involves those animal-head-masked assailants, which makes life outside the campus realm seem menacing and fraught with danger. And when Smith is kidnapped, the world itself seems ready to come to an end.
Araki's erratic plotting is less the point than his ability to create his own version of the college-life world, where conspiracy theory seems as valid as any of the other theories that students are being taught. These are kids for whom the future looks so bleak or uncertain that they tend to live in the moment, a moment that includes sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Some things never change.
Dekker is impossibly handsome but also believably naïve without seeming gullible or stupid. As Smith, he's got a quality that blends the world-weary with the suggestible, as he finds himself plunged into a reality that no one else seems to be aware of. Bennett and Temple play variations on the tough chick with the smart mouth that are complementary and funny.
Kaboom, which played at Sundance this week before opening Friday, is casually shocking and consistently, surprisingly witty. Could it rock your world? Just possibly.