Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Movies: The King of California

Like its female lead, Evan Rachel Wood, The King of California is cute, sweet, and good looking, but not very substantive, and just a little bit too young and naive to take seriously.

Michael Douglas plays Wood's batty father Charlie, an ex-jazz bassist whose alternative lifestyle (and clinical mental health issues) forced daughter Miranda to raise herself after her mother leaves them. Charlie had gone into treatment and left Miranda alone in their crumbling Victorian which, with gingerbread details and wraparound porch, appears to have been dropped into the middle of the Southern California nowhere by one of the cranes now constructing a planned unit development on all sides of it. At the movie's beginning, Charlie is coming home, and Miranda, who has survived by her own mettle, with a job at McDonald's, has to readjust to his presence. This is made more difficult, but more interesting, by his quest for a buried treasure of Spanish doubloons from the era of the missions, and against her better judgment, Miranda allows herself to be drawn into Charlie's quest, which commences with a planned break-in at the local Costco, under which Charlie is certain the treasure is buried. After jackhammering a body-sized hole in the cement floor, and hitting an underground river, Charlie does find the treasure. He does so, though, with no escape, as the cops arrive, and as they chase him, he jumps back into the hole, never to resurface. Miranda does, however, get to keep the treasure, which Charlie had the foresight to hide inside a mini-fridge, for which the sales slip is the last thing he gives his daughter before diving back down to his death.

The film's weakness is, unfortunately, its very magical realistic pretense; Charlie is repeatedly established as a nut, but at the end, all of his hunches are proven valid, and Miranda reaps their reward. And so what is the take-away? Your parents are always right, even if you are too cool to believe them? Follow your dreams? Have faith in the impossible? I mean, really. And if I am the jaded target market, the message wasn't properly coated for me to swallow.

What are good, though, are the second unit shots, mostly still, of the suburban corporate big box megastore strip mall American wastelandscape, beautiful in their crisp, plain font and primary color glory, up against a flat blue sky. Art direction and acting cues are borrowed at times from Wes Andersen, (particularly Pepper's motorcycle chase scene), but as he has come to define the indie aesthetic, this is not a particularly blame-worthy action (in fact, although it's little better than filmic petty theft, it makes the movie better). So really, this film only whet my appetite for the upcoming Darjeeling Limited.

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