In "Kaboom," director Gregg Araki aims to be David Lynch at his most "Twin Peaks" spooky, but he's saddled with a John Waters sense of humor, so the resulting film ends up equally ridiculous and hilarious and surprisingly entertaining. Araki mimics the luscious candy colors, vaguely sinister California settings, and lovely young actors of Lynch's work, but he can't resist giggling at the general weirdness of it all. As "Kaboom" gains momentum, the plotting becomes more and more bizarre, with Araki, who wrote the script, throwing in staples of every genre — dreams becoming reality, worldwide conspiracies, hidden identities, and just about anything else you can think of. A skillful filmmaker, Araki keeps it all from spinning out of control, though it sure gets wobbly at times. It's silly, it's adolescent, but it's a lot of fun.
The narrator, an 18-year-old college freshman named Smith, played by the delicately beautiful Thomas Dekker, is haunted by the exact same dream, night after night. As the naked Smith walks down a corridor, a gorgeous brunette points to an equally striking redhead, until the dream ends with a red trunk. It's not a sexual dream exactly, because Smith is mostly gay (undeclared, as he puts it). The person he lusts after is his dopey surfer roommate Thor, played by the hunky Chris Zylka. Smith's best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) is an art student at the same school. Dressed in early-1960s sweaters, plastic see-through boots, and gargantuan metal earrings, the sarcastic Stella looks more like someone who lives to shop than an artist, but she gives her scenes a brittle campiness that balances Smith's hyper-sensitive melancholy.
Stella has the bad luck to begin a passionate affair with a witch named Lorelei, a brunette who looks exactly like the woman in Smith's dream. As played by Roxane Mesquida, Lorelei is a dating nightmare. When Stella tries to gently disengage, Lorelei makes a voodoo doll, one that actually works. The other central character is a sexually omnivorous blonde called London, played with great charm by Juno Temple. Made up to look like a kewpie doll with blatantly false eyelashes and a bee-stung mouth, London is the putti with the potty mouth.
It must be clear by now that the film-festival darling "Kaboom" is filled with lots and lots of sex. These young people don't go a day or even many hours without having sex with someone. The sex is fairly graphic, but it's never erotic, and actually feels rather innocent, as if children were playing grown-ups. Because the desire the characters' feel seems generic, not focused on anyone specific, there's no emotion associated with any of it. It's rather like exercise or bathing, something you do regularly so you don't feel yucky.
Araki is often grouped with other openly gay directors in the Queer Cinema movement, and his first films appeared in the late '80s early '90s, in the shadow of AIDS decimating the gay community. The drama "Mysterious Skin" is his only film adapted from a novel, and is totally different in tone. Deeply disturbing, it deals with pedophilia and sexual abuse, and features an extraordinary performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage hustler who befriends a younger boy. "Kaboom" is as sunny as the other was dark, and no matter how many terrible things happen on this college campus, you can't get too upset because they're just so preposterous. Araki has a lot of fun satirizing homophobia, Scientology and other fringe religions, contemporary parenting, and who knows what else. It's all stirred into a frothy cinematic cocktail that goes kaboom.