The sex-obsessed college students in Gregg Araki’s “Kaboom” all seem to be working toward an STD degree. As Smith (Thomas Dekker) says, “I’m 18 and perpetually horny.” This being the 21st century his lust knows no gender boundaries. His best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) says he’s “probably a 3 or 4 on the Kinsey Scale,” while he describes himself as “undeclared.”
Araki himself has become more bisexual, both in his films and his private life, since his days as one of the poster boys for the New Queer Cinema of the early ‘90s. While it’s unquestionably gay-positive, “Kaboom” would score no higher on Kinsey than its protagonist.
Indeed, Smith’s only repeat sexual partner is a woman, London (Juno Temple), although he fantasizes about his “excruciatingly hot straight roommate” Thor (Chris Zylka), “a surfer, dumb as a box of rocks”; flirts with Oliver (Brennan Mejia), hooks up with Hunter (Jason Olive) at a nude beach and gets a surprise “gift” from London on his 19th birthday.
Unlike Araki’s early films about young, self-absorbed Southern Californians who sit around talking when they’re not having sex, something actually happens in “Kaboom.” This may not sit well with viewers who were enjoying the status quo but the filmmaker softens the blow by making the impending apocalypse seem almost trivial. Only Smith seems to worry about it, and Dekker’s attractiveness diminishes as his intensity increases.
The seeds are planted at the outset, as Smith dreams about a red dumpster and two women he’s never seen. Stella assures him, “Dreams are just your brain taking a dump at the end of the day,” then takes him to a party where he sees both dream women. Stella leaves with one of them, Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), who turns out to be an insatiable witch. Smith goes home with London, who’s “not into the whole sleepover/breakfast thing” but will see him again and again.
The other dream woman, Madeleine (Nicole LaLiberte) is attacked by three men wearing animal masks — or is Smith hallucinating? Or is Madeleine’s the headless female torso found in the dumpster Smith dreamed about?
Smith turns 19 at the film’s midpoint (a line about his “19th year” actually refers to his 20th) and starts unraveling the mysteries of the universe, including an underground cult, possibly led by his dead father, that makes the Adjustment Bureaucrats look like amateurs. “Strange seems to be the new normal,” Smith notes.
With all the kidnappings, killings, chases and revelations, there’s hardly time for screwing anymore. Stella’s bewitched, Smith’s bewildered and you may be bothered by the shift in genre from sex comedy to fantasy thriller.
If you don’t take any of it too seriously, “Kaboom” is good light entertainment. Araki’s technique has improved over the years to the point where his work looks as slick as most Hollywood product, and he’s gotten better at scripting witty banter. The actors may not sound natural reciting sexual euphemisms like “downloading his hard drive” but they sound like they’ve been given good dialogue to deliver.
“Kaboom” isn’t a masterpiece like Araki’s “Mysterious Skin,” but it’s not intended to be more than a trifle. With plenty of eye candy for all genders, it doesn’t matter who’s doing what to whom on screen; they’ll be doing it to you in your dreams — until your orgasm or the end of the world, whichever comes first.
Top photo: Thomas Dekker as Smith in ‘Kaboom,’ directed by Gregg Araki. (by Marianne Williams)