Like a stinking turd that just won't flush completely down the toilet, Mike Cahill's rancid "comedy" THE KING OF CALIFORNIA (*1/2) flopped around my television set last night, stinking up my living room. A massive disappointment on pretty much every creative level, this is a film that should have worked. The premise is rife with possibility. But it's all squandared by inept directing, shitting editing, and a chaotic tone that never fully focuses on one particular idea or stream of emotion. The idea is this: a whack-job, certifiable nut of a father played by Michael Douglas is let out of the loony bin for...well...I'm not exactly sure...good behavior? He's a treasure-hunter of sorts, or at least, someone who is crazy enough to believe the idea that there is buried treasure from the 1700's resting under a Costco somewhere in a non-descript, corporate America-style nothern California city (the supposedly satirical elements of the script fall completely flat). He enlists the help of his reluctant teenage daughter (Evan Rachel Wood, in yet another performance where I don't believe her, don't like her, and want to see her slapped around a bit) who has been living on her own(!) since her father's commital, supposedly due to loopholes in the child welfare/social services system (the witty reason for all of this that Wood delivers via voiceover is an eye roller if there ever was one). She's been working at McDonalds rather than going to school, so she can afford to pay the bills at her house. Um, yeah. So, the two of these idiots break into the Costco and start digging. I won't spoil the ending. Well...yes, I think I will spoil it. Because I don't want you to waste your time with this piece of cinematic fecal matter. Douglas digs a hole in the floor of the Costco and ends up reaching an underground river. He jumps in with scuba gear, swims a bit, locates something that might be the treasure, and then is trapped underground, and dies. There are visual cues given to the audience that he's found something extraordinary, and there is a cheap, beyond silly "twist" happy ending that made no sense. Nothing about this film was funny, touching, or exciting. The directing was flaccid, the writing and plotting totally second rate, and the music was grating. So, if after destroying this film why am I even giving it one and a half stars? The answer to that is Michael Douglas. The performance, for all of it's craziness, was the sort of live-wire piece of acting that I didn't think Douglas was apable of at this point in his career. However, someone in the costume department should have been fired; Douglas comes off like a leering pedophile in some scenes, due in large part to his haggard, scraggly beard, the long gray trench coat, and his baggy pants. Weird shit. However, his acting never faltered. In past years, in movies like WALL STREET, THE GAME, A PERFECT MURDER, and FALLING DOWN, Douglas has been a master of icy, mean-spirited power mongers, always in control, even in insane situations. Watching him run amok through the ridiculous surroundings of THE KING OF CALIFORNIA reminded me of how much I enjoy seeing Douglas on screen. Too bad the everything else in the film was complete dreck. I rented this film primarily because I thought Douglas looked great in the trailer, and that SIDEWAYS writer/director Alexander Payne produced it. Even talented people can collaborate on poo-poo sometimes.
What makes matters even worse is that there were a fair amount of critics who were enamored with this dung. Here are few quotes from some of the positive notices THE KING OF CALIFORNIA received:
"The most remarkable thing about King of California is how the characters grow on you, and how their quixotic quest becomes ours." -- Ummm.....no.
"...Cahill wins me over with this poignant depiction of a tender father-daughter relationship." -- Relationship? What relationship? She's calling him Charlie throughout the film rather than dad, and there isn't one single moment of genuine father-daughter material in the entire script.
"A strange, funny and sad story." -- Strange - yes. Funny - no. Sad - definitley. Especially when thinking about all the film that was wasted shooting this pile of feces.
"The treasure of the film is the unearthing of the family bond, magically played by Douglas and Wood." -- Only if your idea of the family bond is breaking into a Costco, defacing public property, and not sending your father back to get the mental help he truly deserves. Sounds like a family I want to be a part of.