Gregg Araki's Kaboom is a freewheeling sex comedy with the punch of a graphic novel and a glow that's positively unearthly. The reds, blues and violets are radiant verging on radioactive, while the buildings on the college campus where it's set loom like giant spaceships against the night sky.
Sex, of which there's a lot, is central to how Araki's freshmen orient themselves to the world -- that's "orient" in all senses. Eighteen-year-old Smith, played by Thomas Dekker, declares his sexual orientation to be "undeclared." He leans gay, but when women throw themselves at him, he's magically open, eager for new discoveries. He's a gorgeous, dreamy-eyed young man with a super-hot blond lesbian best friend, Stella (Haley Bennett), who's hilariously blase and wears short-shorts with clear-plastic thigh-high boots. When they sit on the grass and share notes on their lovers, their platonic vibe is hot, hot, hot.
With all its eye candy and over-the-top innuendo, Kaboom is borderline camp, but I'm happy to say that it never spills over. For starters, camp was created to satirize so-called heterosexual "normalcy" -- whereas what's normal here is fluid or undeclared. The movie doesn't have any straight straights to parody. The characters' emotions are pure, their libidos purer. Smith can barely contain himself around his shaggy-blond roommate, whose name is Thor, and he's equally smitten by Thor's friend Rex. But he is also drawn to a madcap British femme called London, played by Juno Temple, first seen in a red cone hat and fluffy lavender shawl. Dr. Kinsey would have a stroke watching Kaboom, but I bet he'd die happy.
Yet that title is meant to suggest both orgasm and apocalypse. From the start of the film, there's an aura of dread. Smith is having bizarre and ominous dreams about what will happen on his 19th birthday, and while he is falling in and out of beds, he's also being stalked by men in masks of tigers and apes. Did he witness the murder of a red-haired woman, or was it a hallucination? It's gradually clear that the world awaiting the young and sexually liberated isn't so pretty.
With Kaboom, Gregg Araki has outdone himself, which is saying a lot: Starting in the early '90s with his satirical AIDS fantasia The Living End, he's turned pop culture inside-out to explore his generation's collective unconscious. In his 2005 movie Mysterious Skin, based on Scott Heim's novel, he burrowed into the heads of child sex-abuse victims -- into their mystical visions and horror of their bodies. Then he turned around and made the stoner comedy Smiley Face, which shouldn't have bombed. I liked its uninhibited silliness, and loved Anna Faris as an unemployed actress who accidentally eats a batch of pot cupcakes and drops the last surviving Communist Manifesto manuscript from a Ferris wheel.
Smiley Face's loony cartoon style clearly loosened Araki up, and the mixture of tones in Kaboom is exhilarating -- part Blake Edwards, part David Lynch. As Smith explores his sexuality, the Lynch-like riddles of his childhood return with a vengeance. He tries to get answers from his highly sexed mom, played by Kelly Lynch, about the dad he was told died in a car accident. Somehow, because of what happened before Smith was born, the fate of the world now hangs by a thread.
I suspect that, on some crazy level, today's college freshmen, with their adventurous, unfettered sexuality and end-of-civilization anxieties, will be able to relate. Kaboom could be their anthem. (Recommended)