First things first: this movie is a colossal mess, no doubt about it. Performances are uneven, storylines are muddled, and even while paying firm attention, it feels like you've nodded off and missed a reel's worth of exposition and character development. I think it's fair to say that Richard Kelly came down with a big case of beliving-his-own-hypeitis, which has afflicted such filmmakers as the Wachowskis and Shyamalan in recent years.
That said, I enjoyed this as a sort of time capsule for where we are in AD 2007 (or 2005, when the movie was shot) and as a better Philip K. Dick movie than, say, A Scanner Darkly, which I liked but which didn't really capture Dick's trippy, radically destabilized worldview as well as this movie. My vision of cinema is one in which narrative and normal Hollywood production values are less important than ideas and cinematic virtues. I'm fine with a sloppy, crazy movie as long as it delivers emotions and sustains interesting ideas in a visual sense. In other words, I'll take this movie over a sterile mediocrity like Beowulf any time.
So what the hell is going on here? It's basically an apocalyptic vision of American life in our times: paranoid, obsessed with celebrity, skeptical of authority, ravenous for something meaningful and authentic amidst our current postmodern hall of mirrors. Ironically for Conservatives who can't get beyond the Bush-bashing in this movie, it's a movie with a heartfelt Messianic yearning, with a magical tattoo of the weeping Christ that appears on Dwayne "Don't call me The Rock" Johnson's back at the climax, a character played by Sarah Michelle Gellar named "Krysta Now", and an ending that seems to leave the future of the world in a transfigured, apocalyptic state.
All of this is to say that, whenever you can, it's a must-see. It's a movie in which a lonely Homeland Security worker demands to give a blowjob at gunpoint to the movie star played by Johnson; in which a car commercial shows SVUs fucking like beasts; in which Justin Timberlake delivers the ultimate music video performance of The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done"; in which Amy Poehler is hilarious as always as a pretentious Marxist terrorist wannabe; in which Rebekah Del Rio sings the national anthem in a reference to Mulholland Drive; and in which Nora Dunn tells John Larroquette, "No one rocks the cock like Cyndi Pinziki" after tasering him. How can you not want to see this movie?