King of California review by Tom Blain

King of California is probably a film most movie goers havent heard of. I myself only saw the trailer while viewing a straight-to-DVD feature called Smiley Face. With Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood, I figured it would have gotten some sort of nationwide screening; as there is usually some market even for small budget films. But to my surprise it only hit 28 theatres at its zenith in early October 07. After seeing the amusing trailer about a father who encourages his daughter to help him break into a large warehouse store to find buried treasure I became very curious. Who wouldnt? Lucky for me, the DVD was in my hands less than a month later for my immediate viewing.

As I expected, it was pretty entertaining. The movie is narrated by Miranda (a calm Evan Rachel Wood) who has been living at home, alone since she was about 15 years old. Her father Charlie (Michael Douglas) was put in the crazy house for events that are never quite explained. Im guessing he questioned authority; he seems like the type. It turns out that living alone is pretty much what she wanted. She supports herself with two shifts at McDonalds but when she comes home things are generally how she likes it: calm and quiet. Since she has a double shift and is responsible for herself, school is an afterthought.

Four years after being cooped up in the nuthouse, the day comes when she has to pick up daddy and bring him home for good. Immediately he begins to spoil her silent paradise by taking the car out without telling her, leaving piles of dishes, inviting over friends, etc. All of this and no job to pull his weight. Not only does he not have a job but he drivers Miranda on missions to hunt down treasure buried by a Spanish missionary somewhere in the neighborhood. AhhhMiranda and her conflicts; is daddy still crazy or is there really buried treasure in them thar hills?! Being the loyal attentive daughter that she is, she follows/helps/abets daddy nutcase on his journey for the gold doubloons buried deep under CostCo.

King of California is directed by first time director and screenwriter Michael Cahill and at times it does feel like a first time director directed it. There are moments where I found myself questioning some of the decisions (mostly the overuse of voice over), but in general its a very well constructed film. The main character Charlie is an anti-work, anti-corporation, anti-establishment hippy throwback who never quite grew up into a yuppy. Director Cahill does a great job of contrasting him against figures of commercial establishment at every moment Charlie is outside of his house. There are countless scenes backdropped against fast food chains, mini-malls, cookie-cutter McMansion neighborhoods and, of course, CostCo. What better place than CostCo, a temple of consumer bulk excess, to dig up a priests gold.

Overall impressions: King of California is cute. It could be described as quirky in the same way someone would call Little Miss Sunshine quirky. (Side note: I think quirky has come to mean any movie where one or more characters in a film doesnt react well with modern society). As I mentioned at the outset, it was definitely entertaining but towards the end left me wanting a little more. And not in that good way but rather that slightly disappointed way. It was hard to put my finger on what more I wanted. Part of it may have been the new director/writer hangups. And aside from Charlie, the characters could have used a bit more charge or depth or maybe deeper development. Some people may have issues with the well wrapped ending and I struggled with it myself. But I suppose if you already bought into a girl who is living in a house by herself from a young age and you buy into her following around her semi-crazy dad as he trespasses, hocks stuff for cash, digs, and breaks into places then you have already lost grounds for establishing realism. King of California is an enjoyable low budget film, just a notch or two above average.




6 out of 10 Jackasses
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