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Movie Review

Kaboom

Film puts sex in the sex comedy

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / March 4, 2011

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"Kaboom’’ is currently having all the sex other American comedies are too shy and too commercial for. Here it’s collegiate, plentiful, casual, occasionally dreamt up, and amusingly direct. In one scene, when the jock lying next to a young British woman named London (Juno Temple) insists on refinishing the job he started, she stops him and does something I don’t recall ever having seen in either a movie or on HBO. She gives him imaginatively detailed instructions. “Kaboom’’ has been written with easy verve by Gregg Araki, independent filmmaking’s undaunted reveler in the sexuality of people half his age. So when London advises her current mate on how best to please her, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear women say, “Amen,’’ and see men taking notes.

Most of “Kaboom’’ centers on a few days in the life of Smith (Thomas Dekker, of the big, soft-boiled eyes). He’s an artsy 18-year-old at a California university. He’s attracted to his surfer roommate, Thor (Chris Zylka), spends time with tart lesbian pal Stella (Haley Bennett), and, after one bite of a spangled cookie, finds himself having ecstatic intercourse with London. None of which stops him from pursing relationships or having sex with other men.

Everyone here over-talks, the way they do on the CW but better (“I’ve had pelvic exams that last longer than this’’). How swell, then, that Araki’s dialogue accessorizes so well with Smith’s over-styled, over-gelled look. (Has any college student ever looked this much like a Scissor Sister for this many days in a row?) Araki builds around Smith a mystery involving a missing girl, which leads to such a preposterous finale that even the aptly named Philip K. Dick would have said, “Oh no he didn’t.’’ The movie’s been written into such a hole that Araki’s only option is to send the whole movie up in a giant bomb of last-minute exposition (kaboom, indeed). But even that’s probably more fun than whatever you saw at the movies last weekend.

It’s possible that Araki might be parodying prime-time soaps (he certainly makes MTV’s misunderstood “Skins’’ seem like a cartoon). He might just as gleefully be parodying his formerly ponderous self in movies like 1995’s “The Doom Generation.’’ Either way, he’s made an almost complete recovery from the grave straining of 2004’s “Mysterious Skin,’’ a film of surreal seriousness that Araki worked hard to pull off. The movie’s success could have trapped him in a mode of high humorlessness and forced art. Instead, it’s liberated him from the stress of ambition.

“Kaboom’’ lets Araki play with carnality as opposed to cautioning against it. He sends sexual orientation on a vacation from any fixed definition (kaboom again!). Activists might shake their heads in dismay at all the bi-, omni-, poly- everything. But, really, it’s such a persuasive argument for untamed lust that it’s positively a work of activism in itself: Just do it. A lot.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

KABOOM Written and directed by: Gregg Araki

Starring: Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Chris Zylka, James Duval, Kelly Lynch, and Juno Temple

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 86 minutes

Unrated (because, really, with this much sex and topped with stabs of violence, where would the MPAA start?)

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