It seems only logical that the creators of a sequel to Donnie Darko—the 2001 cult creeper starring Jake Gyllenhaal—should have a strong appreciation of the original’s strengths: its sense of place, its perfectly puzzled plot, its deep, dark sense of humor, its fundamental tone. But S. Darko director Chris Fisher and writer Nathan Atkins—with zero involvement from Donnie Darko writer-director Richard Kelly—take a few simple, surface elements from the story and fail spectacularly in trying create a franchise. (Original title: S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale.) In search of something as profound as their source material, they bombard the screen with convoluted nonsense that has only the vaguest similarity to the original film, and deliver a silly plot with performances straight out of a Cinemax late-night crapfest. Donnie Darko is doing backflips in his grave.
Daveigh Chase reprises her role as Samantha Darko, a character whose importance to the first film was related mainly to her commitment to Sparkle Motion. She’s now a sexy, sexy disaffected teen who’s been mopey since a jet engine from another dimension squashed her brother seven years earlier, and her nightmares began. On a road trip to California, Chase and her edgy pal Briana Evigan—it’s clear that they’re edgy because they’re sort of rude to everybody, except one rebellious dude—break down in rural Utah, where they meet a panoply of thoroughly unconvincing character types: the science-loving nerd, the excitable motel owner, the hick cop, the greasy-haired stud, some creepy Christians. There’s also “Iraq Jack,” a veteran who hears voices that may be the same types of messages that Donnie Darko received about the end of the world and his role in saving it.
From there, S. Darko goes plot-crazy, grabbing the most basic snippets from Donnie Darko—parallel universes, the end of the world, a bunny mask—and vomiting them up in no particular order: It’s as if someone set out to make a sequel to Goodfellas and ended up with 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag. No one appears to know or care what’s going on, even as meteorites fall, a church is burned to the ground, and a small boy’s disappearance goes unsolved. Elizabeth Berkley shows up briefly as a Jesus-lover who describes Christ as tan and muscular. A car crash kills Samantha Darko, but she’s somehow given a second chance, because apparently her destiny is to—wait for it—not have any effect at all on the story. Stupid, nonsensical events in this small town seem to proceed exactly as they would have if Donnie Darko’s little sister had never shown up. (This probably isn’t the filmmakers’ intention, but it’s impossible to discern, since the movie time-travels to the story’s beginning just before the credits roll.) Real line of dialogue: “There must be some connection between what happened to Sam and Donnie.” Not really—this is Darko in name only, so those struck by Donnie Darko’s originality and twists won’t get a similar rush: They’re more likely to laugh and/or cry for all the wrong reasons.
Key features: A commentary track does its best to do the explaining that the movie didn’t, a making-of posits what Richard Kelly might think, and some deleted scenes don’t do much.