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auditioning for ectoplasm wrangler vacancy in S. Darko

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S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale
cast: Daveigh Chase, James Lafferty, Briana Evigan, Jackson Rathbone, and Elizabeth Berkley

director: Chris Fisher

99 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 16:9
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
It would take a brave man to mess with the primal force that was Donnie Darko, and let us just state that there is no brave man involved in this belated follow-up. None of the original's creators is either in front or behind the camera, and this is a cowardly creation that hides behind the reputation of another. It is a beautiful film, which is thanks, mostly, to Marvin V. Rushe's camerawork that riffs off Ron Fricke; hardly original but easily the most rewarding part of this mess. It is also full of beautiful young people who move listlessly around it in search of direction, giving the impression that Fisher is the one man in the history of cinema who is trying to use his film as a stepping-stone to making 1980s' rock videos. So, beautiful - yes - but this is the kind of beauty that'll scream "Not the face!" and lie cowering on the ground when you prod it to see what it's made of. It will make you angry.

Let's get on with what, for the sake of convention, we shall refer to as 'the plot'. It is now seven years since Donnie was killed in a freak accident by blah-blah-blah. (You all know this, right? Spoilers for S. Darko are one thing, but I'd hate to ruin Donnie Darko for the few of you who haven't yet seen it). Donnie's fey sister, Sam (Daveigh Chase), has run away from home and is Thelma-and-Louiseing across Utah with Corey (Briana Evigan doing a low-rent Juliette Lewis, which is saying something). Car breaks down. Randy (Ed Westwick, all shades, designer stubble and slick hair) stops and gives them a lift to town. There the girls hole up in a motel, go to a party, visit a 'Twin Peaks' diner, and generally push the plot, Sisyphus-fashion, slowly uphill.

They meet the local cop who is played by Brett Roberts in a manic fashion, obviously thrown by having to deliver poor dialogue while wearing a moustache and shorts at the same time. He is also on the hunt for a local serial killer who has caused the disappearance of two locals. Everyone suspects 'Iraq Jack' (James Lafferty), another of this small town's impossibly beautiful youths who just happens to live out of dumpsters. Even the town geek (Jackson Rathbone) looks like Johnny Depp. Until he takes his glasses off, that is, and he turns into a mutant cross between Jeff Goldblum and John Travolta; one of the few signs of intelligence at work here, as he is supposed to become more disturbing, but did it really have to be because of close contact with a meteor? Has Stan Lee's lawyer seen this?

While all this is happening, Sam is seeing dead people who are telling her that the world will end on the fourth of July. Iraq Jack and Corey also see them, thus destroying the whole concept of subjectivity that haunted Kelly's film. There are also scenes that show the ectoplasmic trails that move into the future, but one of the ghosts breaks one of the trails and tells the person concerned that they are free to choose their own destiny. One of the most potent ideas in Donnie Darko was the expression of time travel in a deterministic universe, and that concept is just trashed in this follow-up. The clock is frequently rewound here, and the last time leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. A saccharine ending is tacked on to save a character when surely this audience didn't come here for that. Never mind that it makes no logical sense; never mind that it leaves a kid to die alone: you will feel up-lifted at the end because someone with a pretty face has been given a second chance. No. I don't think so.

And I'm not finished yet. Donnie Darko evoked a personal sense of time-travel in the viewer because it captured 1988 perfectly; it even remembered that a year is the sum of all that has come previously. S. Darko not only fails to evoke a sense of its time (the music, pivotal in the first film, for example, is so bland here that it barely registers), but it is littered with anachronisms that reveal a contempt for the viewer on the part of those who are in charge. The town cinema, for example, is showing Twelve Monkeys and Strange Days. Skipping past the lazy shorthand of using other films to explain the theme of this one, there is still the fact that, while both films were indeed released in 1995, they weren't released until well after 4th July. Film fans notice such things. And what of Frank? Donnie Darko is part of a very select club of scary-rabbit films. Sexy Beast is another one, in case you think I'm just winging it with this. But S. Darko is not. We see Iraq Jack fashioning the mask, so we know exactly what Frank is. And he is not scary.

DVD extras include a director's commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, and another light-hearted documentary about making a film in Utah, uh-huh.

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