And you thought Richard Kelly's 'Donnie Darko' was confusing. Get ready to take a trip to Southland - a sprawling futuristic version of a Los Angeles on the cusp of social, political, economical and environmental disaster in the year 2008.

To get a feel for the bewildering complexities of Kelly's second feature, you need only afford yourself a brief description of its three central characters.

Boxer Santaros (Johnson) is a conservative-leaning Hollywood superstar who has just returned from the Arizona desert suffering from amnesia. Reported missing by his wife, he shacks up with Krysta Now (Gellar), a porn star intent on expanding her business portfolio by means of a reality TV show and energy drinks. She has co-written a screenplay with Santaros - predicting the end of the world in just three days' time - in which he will play the role of police officer, Jericho Kane.

Researching his role, Santaros tags along with LA cop Ronald Taverner's (Scott) amnesiac twin brother Roland, who is being manipulated as part of a neo-Marxist scheme to overthrow the Government - a Government which, following a nuclear attack in Texas in 2005, is in the midst of World War III.

Set to the backdrop of this ongoing war, the Government has stepped up the Patriot Act, which has encroached further on civil liberties, with the powers that be taking control of the internet and other media outlets. This results in a heightened threat to democracy and political stability, while the long-running conflict in Iraq has resulted in a fuel crisis.

Here begins another tale to this sprawling movie - that of Baron Von Westphalen (Shawn). Von Westphalen has become one of the world's most powerful men by creating an alternative, unending fuel source. Ultimately all these elements will fuse together to signal the end of the world on 4 July 2008.  

In an odd way watching 'Southland Tales' feels similar to playing the video game 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas'. It constantly seems to expand and sprawl to the point that you don't exactly know what you should be following.

A rabbit hole of a movie, there is such a myriad of supporting characters, turns, twists and loopholes in Kelly's work that it demands your constant attention - and because of that 'Southland Tales' becomes extremely hard work.

Kelly has so much to say that he ends up putting his story across in a manner which is incomprehensible. He splices genres, even adding a bizarre musical element to this sci-fi/black comedy/thriller/apocalyptic drama, with Justin Timberlake lip-synching his way though The Killers' 'All These Things That I've Done' in what is the most random of random scenes over the film's 144 minutes.

From the off, each scene seems like it has just been dropped in arbitrarily and thus, piecing the elements together becomes a chore. Two hours in and you'll be restless, frustrated and - dare I say it - bored.

Yet, for all its narrative flaws, 'Southland Tales' still lingers in the memory long after you've left the cinema. As Kelly loosely pieces the puzzle together in the last five minutes you begin to appreciate how clever the whole story intended to be and commend Kelly's vision.

Kelly's choice of cast too should be praised, with the director casting the film with a host of pop icons pigeonholed by their past work. Given a new lease of life by the cult director, Buffy becomes a porn star; The Rock is stretched as a bumbling, often funny, manic actor; Stifler is a cop with amnesia; Mandy Moore is a cheating, bitchy wife and Timberlake is a drug dealing war veteran.

However, though 'Southland Tales' boasts such occasionally inspired moments, in all - as a work of cinema - it is a mess, lacking direction and a cohesive story. The ambitious Kelly has over-shot himself this time around. Here's hoping his next effort, the much anticipated 'The Box', isn't half as disappointing.

Steve Cummins