Overrated Movies #2: Donnie Darko


25th March 2005

There have been many good films about time travel in the past - Back to The Future, Back to The Future 2, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fave Time Chasers, Planet of The Apes and Freejack. Donnie Darko isn't one of them.

Described as "cool", "classic" and "cult" by various beret-wearing critics who like to pretend they like rubbish films because it's chic, Donnie Darko has become one of those films that everybody likes because nobody wants to say "actually, it's wank". "Oh you just didn't understand it" will be the outcry from fat goth girls and film students convinced they have a secret understanding of movies that nobody else possibly could. No, I understood it perfectly well. And I understood it was not much more than a teen-angst version of a Quantum Leap episode (minus the humorous "oh my god I'm a black woman in the 50's" ending they all seemed to have).

Donnie is your typical Hollywood teen. No real problems, doesn't slam doors/suffer from acne/experiment with drugs or being gay. No, his only problem is that a giant bunny called Frank lures him out of the house just before a jet engine smashes into his bedroom, which would've killed him if his magical animal chum hadn't intervened. His parents think he's mental and send him to a shrink rather than talk to him, leaving Donnie with plenty of time to listen to esoteric tunes on the soundtrack that add depth and emotion to what is little more than a join-the-dots plot about time travel.

Oh, except it isn't about time travel at all. It's about parallel universes. But you won't get that from the film, because it goes to great lengths to shout TIME TRAVEL TIME TRAVEL TIME TRAVEL at you until you wish for a DeLorean and Biff Tannen to rescue you from this turgid Red Dwarf nonsense. If you stress time travel over and over, have a teacher at school that just happens to be into that "serious" theory and even have a mystical old woman and her book, then to suddenly talk about parallel universes is as hoary as "It was all a dream!"

Apparently if you visit the website, it "all becomes clear". Yeah? Well guess what? I watch a film, I don't want to be directed to the website to discover the true meaning. The last film that did that sort of thing was The Matrix Reloaded, and we all know how that turned out. Actually, this film could've done with some kung-fu and gunfights. Because at the moment all you have is the Boy in The Bubble looking perturbed and reminding you that the kid in American Beauty was much better at this sort of dark intelligent all-American teen idol thing. You need any more proof of how lazy the scripting/ideas are for this film? When Donnie attacks the magic bunny, it says "Deus Ex Machina". Which, for any of you that didn't study Latin, means the following:

"Deus ex machina is used for cases where an author uses some improbable (and often clumsy) plot device to work his or her way out of a difficult situation. When the cavalry comes charging over the hill or when the impoverished hero is relieved by an unexpected inheritance, it's often called a deus ex machina."

Yeah. Well done, intricately plotted cult-classic. To summarise - Donnie Darko is a cult classic if you like Anne Rice novels, patchouli oil, purple cushions, ruffed shirts and think that a dimly-plotted exercise in style over substance is "ground breaking". If you did enjoy this film, you're probably Paul "Two Thumbs!!!!" Ross. Or a miserable teen angry at stuff for no reason. Or a film student. The best thing about Donnie Darko? Patrick Swayze. Which tells you all you need to know. Andy

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