Published Dec 01, 2002Ken Park is to movies what tighty-whities are to underwear. It's unattractive, cheap and could possibly prevent you from ever having children. In fact, the utilitarian men's briefs are so prevalent in Clark and Lachman's crass and queasy new movie, in various stages of soiling, they should get screen credit and a union card. Like the previous collaboration of Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine, 1995's Kids, Ken Park follows the lives of a group of aimless lower-middle class teens, this time in suburban southern California. Unlike Kids, which seems as genteel as Jules and Jim in comparison, Ken Park manages to leave nothing to the imagination. Absolutely nothing. From a slow camera tilt down to a man's penis as he drunkenly hunches over a toilet having a pee, to a slow tilt down to a boy's penis as he jerks off, the movie revels in the drugged, downtrodden debauchery of its self-made cess pool. It reeks of the desperation of a mediocre filmmaker who is realising that his once cachet-driving shock value is starting to wear off. If only any of it actually meant something. Claude, Shawn, Peaches, and Tate are all good friends, although they are separated into their own episodic vignettes for most of the movie. Claude (Stephen Jasso) is a skinny skater who despises his father and longs to please him at the same time. His father is a loutish drunk, the kind who accuses his son of being a "fag" if he isn't a sufficient misogynist. Shawn (James Bullard) is another nondescript skinny kid who is busy getting schooled in the ways of love by his girlfriend's mother (who looks like an ex-porn star). Peaches (Tiffany Limos, who conceived the story but didn't collaborate on the screenplay) is a beautiful young girl trapped in the home of her well-intentioned yet crazy Jesus-loving widower father. And Tate (James Ransone) is a sociopathic Scrabble Nazi trapped in the idyllic hell of his grandparents' house. There is the seed of a good movie in Ken Park. Ransone's portrayal of Tate conjures up vague memories of Rushmore's Max Fischer and Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle simultaneously, and he actually seems to be a real actor. Gone is the nauseatingly shaky camera work and bad lighting of Clark's previous films (no doubt thanks to co-director and accomplished cinematographer Lachman, who has shot everything from The Limey to Less Than Zero). Unfortunately, in the artless hands of screenwriter Korine (Gummo) any potential is squandered. Each plot line slowly succumbs to pointless obscenity and shabby brutality. You may be tempted to call me a Puritan, but it's not a hatred of pornography (and this is plainly pornography) that turned me off Ken Park. Yes, our society's conflicted and hypocritical sexual mores lead to sadness and pain, but you knew that already, and this movie knows that you did. Anything Ken Park is trying to say about sexual relationships is lost behind the shock of its explicitness. By the final scenes of the orgy between the young stars, an almost sweetly naive moment- at least in comparison- is transformed into a perverse reminder of the horrors that unfolded in the previous ninety minutes. Not only is the movie creepy, it's really a patronising affront to the working class, and plays like a Discovery Channel expose on trailer trash. But the worst thing about Ken Park is that its exploitation doesn't even have the decency to call itself such, instead disguising pure titillation as social commentary. Of course, I'm prejudiced. I always have preferred boxers to briefs.