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Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2003

Kill 'em all! Well, at least the filmmakers

Ken Park

Rating: * (out of 5)
Director: Larry Clark
Running time: 96 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

It's easy enough to say that a film is "bad," but then the question becomes "How bad?" Well, there are films bad enough to make you fidget, that make each minute drag on endlessly. There are films bad enough to put you into a stuporous sleep. And there are films so bad that you just snap and walk out halfway through, never giving the damn thing a second thought.

News photo
Tiffany Limos and Mike Apaletegui in "Ken Park"

But then there are the films so stupendously awful that walking out just won't do: You sit there fuming, fantasizing about dragging the filmmakers kicking and screaming to the front of the theater, where you will zap them with cattle prods until they squeal for mercy and apologize for actually thinking that someone like yourself should pay them good money to watch stuff like, well, "Ken Park." Unless, of course, your idea of fun is watching a skanky teenager beating off to women's tennis videos -- for five minutes straight -- while asphyxiating himself.

The fantasy victims in this case are director Larry Clark ("Bully") and screenwriter Harmony Korine ("Gummo"), reunited for the first time since "Kids," the 1995 exercise in miserabilism that put them on the map. "Ken Park," their latest venture into "transgressive" teen sexuality, proudly displays its controversy -- X ratings resulting in delayed openings worldwide. Japan, thanks to some heavy use of mosaics by the censors, thus receives the dubious honor of being the first country where the film will actually open in the cinemas on schedule.

Good. Let it open and die the slow death of bad box office and poor reviews that it so richly deserves. What we don't need is state censorship making this film a cause celebre, thus deluding liberal-minded viewers into thinking there's something more to this flick than cheap shock tactics. Despite Clark's good reputation among film critics, and Korine having been proclaimed a "genius" by no less than director Bernardo Bertolucci, it's hard to find anything in "Ken Park" that would be any different than if you had handed $1 million to Beavis and Butthead and let them make their dream film . . .

"Uhhh, let's have some skaters, cuz skaters are, like, uh, cool." "Yeah! And one of 'em will, like, blow his brains out, cuz, you know, life sucks and stuff! That would be cool!" "Yeah, and, uh, the other skater, he's, like, bonking his girlfriend's mom, who's got, like, huge thingies." "Yeah, cuz her husband can't get it up! Heh-heh-heh." "And then we'll have this kid who's into Marilyn Manson and stuff, and he'll, like, kill his grandparents, because, uh, old people suck." "Yeah! Kill 'em! Kill! Kill! Kill!"

You get the idea. At least B&B's film would be amusing in its idiocy. Clark and Korrine, however, take themselves very seriously; they up the ante of "Kids" here, seeking to portray a singularly sordid suburban world of messed-up teens and even more messed-up parents.

Skater Shawn (James Bullard) is sleeping with his cheerleader girlfriend's mom, Rhonda (Maeve Quinlan), a busty blonde bombshell. Their dialogue, delivered with disaffected blase, could have come from any porn flick: "Can I eat you out?" "It's really wet." "Whose d**k is bigger?" Clark gives us a close-up of Shawn's crotch to show he really has an erection, as if that fact somehow proves anything.

Nut-case Tate (Gregg Araki regular James Ransome, which should have alarm bells going off already) smacks his dog for barking before going mental on his grandmother for trying to bring him breakfast: "Get the f**k out of my room you f**king bitch!" Welcome to Generation Eminem: This guy goes on to slaughter his grandparents in their sleep, ostensibly for cheating at scrabble, and lets us know that he gets a hard-on when he kills them. Wow.

Peaches (Tiffany Limos) gets caught having S&M sex with her boyfriend (Mike Apaletegui) by her religious-whacko dad, who beats them both and then forces Peaches to marry him in her dead mother's wedding dress. Another skater, Claude (Stephen Jasso), is beaten and belittled by his psycho-macho dad (Wade Andrew Williams), who then tries to rape him one drunken evening. A predictable development, in that after teen sex, murder, masturbation and suicide, rape/incest is about the only button left to push.

So parents suck. The film ends with Peaches, Shawn and Claude somehow hooked up somewhere in a utopian menage a trois of innocent sexuality free from the corrupting adult world. (There remains, however, the cognitive dissonance of Tate.)

Clark's been here before, with "Bully," but that film also had suspense, deft characterizations and a bit of psychological depth amid the sex, drugs and murder. "Ken Park" offers us no insight whatsoever into its world, just more evidence of how squalid life can be. Bring on the cattle prod.

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