“Kaboom” is the latest concoction from the beaker of Gregg Araki, the free spirit known for making films about restless youth, free-flowing sex, and big- and small-picture calamity.
In this new comedy, he takes viewers into the beds and heads of some horny post-millennial college students. It’s a feverishly vibrant but dramatically uneven rush of doomsday tripping and campus carnality.
Araki, whose recent films include 2007’s “Smiley Face” and 2005’s thoughtful, memorable “Mysterious Skin,” returns to the colorful, brazen tones of his 1990s “Doom Generation” days with this hybrid of sex farce, murder mystery and sci-fi nightmare.
You’ll need to place your serious sensibilities on ice and roll with the craziness to appreciate where Araki goes.
Set at a Los Angeles college located in Araki’s heightened universe — with pop hues, attractive, libidinous people and stylized, witty phraseology — the story centers on 18-year-old Smith (Thomas Dekker), a sexually “undeclared” freshman with an angsty dreamboat look.
Smith’s circle includes zinger-dispensing best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) and hunky but dimwitted roommate Thor (Chris Zylka).
With Thor, whom he lusts for, declaring himself completely straight, the fluid Smith beds London (Juno Temple), an uninhibited young British woman who cites Kinsey. Stella’s lover is the possessive Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), who may have supernatural powers.
The weirdness intensifies when Smith eats a funky cookie and sees figures from a dream — a red-haired student and menacing people in animal masks. Other ingredients include a stoner called Messiah (James Duval), a man in Roman garb, occult-style warnings, and more sex, naturally.
Questions rage. Is the red-haired woman real? Is Lorelei casting spells? Did Smith’s father really die in a car accident, like Smith’s mother (Kelly Lynch) nervously insists? Is doomsday coming?
Araki, who has cited David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” as an influence, and whose interests have included the comics and the pop arts, has a made a vital, sexy movie full of pizzazz.
His one-liners, while hit and miss, contain sparklers. Bennett and Temple nail their wicked verbiage. Dekker fares nicely with his contempo-noir delivery of the more, relatively speaking, mundane lines. (“To clear my head, I went to a nude beach.”)
But while superb moments exist, there isn’t enough gold or connective thread in this movie to result in something exceptional. Araki has a way with chaos, but as the plot goes haywire and anarchy reigns, the essential human elements that have long shone in his work — meaningful friendships, underlying desperation, untamed emotions of youth — get upstaged.
The film far from fizzles, but the bang doesn’t reverberate.
Starring Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Chris Zylka
Written and directed by Gregg Araki
Running time 1 hour 26 minutes
Note: Araki is scheduled to attend 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. screenings today and Saturday the Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary Blvd., S.F.