“Nowhere,” the final installment of what can be termed Gregg Araki’s “Teen Apocalypse” trilogy, which began with “Totally F***ed Up” and continued with “The Doom Generation,” is a vibrantly colorful, wildly nihilistic and lovingly perverse poem to America’s beautiful, libidinous and doomed youth. Though not his best, Araki’s sixth feature is without a doubt his most accessible, sensual and superficially entertaining movie to date. Fine Line release should score better than most of Araki’s pics and, with the right handling, could become a hot midnight movie due to its erotic tone, bravura MTV visuals and dynamic music.
Style and content are inseparable in the musicvideo-like “Nowhere,” yet another Araki exploration of alienation among America’s young generation. Thematically, film has nothing new to offer, but visually, it’s Araki’s most audacious and accomplished work so far. Demonstrating helmer’s continuing fascination with surrealist cinema, “Nowhere” follows the logic of TV’s “Beverly Hills, 90210,” fast-forwarded and on acid.
Set in L.A. over the course of one zany but presumably typical day, the deliberately fractured narrative surveys the emotional and sexual turmoil experienced by a multiracial, pan-sexual group of adolescents. Situating his yarn in the John Hughes turf of teen-angst films like “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” Araki ups the ante and presents highly hormonal teenagers as they hurtle through pubescent insecurity, the quest for true love, and the highs and lows of sexual discovery.
Having starred in “Totally F***ed Up” and “The Doom Generation,” actor James Duval is the center of the “Teen Apocalypse” trilogy. Here Duval plays Everyteen Dark Smith, an alienated youngster obsessed with the end of the world and the need to find his one true love before it’s too late. His object of affection, Mel (Rachel True), loves him, but she can’t commit to any one person — or gender: She divides her attention between Dark and her acid-tongued g.f., Lucifer (Kathleen Robertson). Not wasting time, Dark becomes enthralled with an angelic-looking boy, Montgomery (Nathan Bexton).
At the Hole, the local coffee shop hangout, Dark commiserates with his gay buddy Cowboy (Guillermo Diaz), only to realize that the latter has a menu of his own problems. Cowboy’s b.f. and bandmate Bart (Jeremy Jordan) is on a self-destructive spiral that threatens their romantic and musical partnership. Drug dealer Handjob (Alan Boyce) exposes Bart to the dangerous duo of dominatrix Kriss (Chiara Mastroianni) and Kozy (Debi Mazar). Also convening at the Hole are Dingbat (Christina Applegate), the group’s “brain,” and Alyssa (Jordan Ladd), a poet who warns the clique of the impending Armageddon. She’s met with disbelief until an alien appears in the locker room and some teens mysteriously vanish.
Araki conveys vividly the hyper-accentuated extremes of teen experience and the life-or-death notions peculiar to this age group. The film’s tone shifts pronouncedly between comedy and drama, exultation and despair. Yet for all its careening action and ricochet mood changes, “Nowhere” never loses sight of its aching characters and its central issue, alienation.
At heart, Araki was always a surrealist, and now that he has the financial backing — and technical skills to match — he lets his imagination run wild. Yarn unfolds as a zany day spent in Disneyland, but instead of conventional attractions and rides, the film’s universe is anarchic, perverse and in flux: There are no rules, no stable identities and no fixed sexual orientations. As always with Araki’s work, the point of reference is mainstream culture as defined by TV shows like “90210” and “Melrose Place,” from which a number of actors have been cast. Other familiar faces are used as cast-against-type cameos to reinforce the movie’s subversiveness. Hence John Ritter, of TV’s “Three’s Company,” plays Moses Helper, a televangelist who seems always to be on the air.
Confidently steeped in contempo visual and aural codes, “Nowhere” is Araki’s tribute to the weird, ever-changing American pop culture. Pic’s colorful milieu is informed by such disparate elements as Annie Leibovitz’s famous photos of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and the violent fury of comic strips. Occasionally, Araki falls victim to his unbridled visual instincts, as in an unnecessarily violent scene in which a youngster is killed with a can of tomatoes, with the contained liquid merging with human blood.
It’s virtually impossible to single out individual performances from the huge ensemble. Suffice it to say that the cast represents some of the most attractive and sexy young thesps in American TV and movies today. “Nowhere” is the kind of expressionistic movie that Araki had to make, though now that it’s out of his system, perhaps he can move on to newer subjects — and more resonant films.