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King of California

Starring Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood; Willis Burks II, Laura Kachergus, Paul Lieber, Kathleen Wilhoite
Written and Directed by Mike Cahill

IN SHORT: A gentle, useless, li'l arthouse rental. [Rated PG-13 for some strong language, mature thematic elements and brief drug references. 96 minutes]

Do not ask me to explain the title of this film which, though set in California, is not about a Kin, a man who would be king, nor is it mentioned in the actual story, as far as I can remember. Psychic powers are quite beyond my ability. I can make a total leap to a story by Neil Gaiman about the real life, California based Emperor of the United States -- one Joshua Norton, a personable loon who declared himself "Emperor" after losing his considerable fortune trying to corner the rice market in 1859. Based in San Francisco, he issued currency and proclamations; declared the need for a "League of Nations" to settle international disputes; Firmly established that using the abdominal word "Frisco" would make the user subject to a $25 dollar fine; and, in short, benevolently "ruled" until his death in 1880. As gentle lunatics go, that is a good story.

Which brings me to King of California, in which a first time writer/director is, we suppose, given a healthy boost up by successful friends in the biz. The script hold barely a story. Personal relationships are barely explored. The entire time spent in the dark basically drives one plot idea . . . but I'm ahead of the thing.

Once there was a happy family. An unnamed mom who abandons her jazz musician hubby, Charlie (Michael Douglas) and li'l daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood). Without mom, apparently none too stable herself, around to hold the family unit together, Dad loses his marbles and is committed to a mental hospital. Normally this is where Social Services steps in to make everybody and anyone in the vicinity absolutely miserable due to their incompetence, especially in a progressive state like California. But no . . .

Miranda drops out of school and runs solo, working a double shift at the local McDonalds to keep up the payments on the house, while the surrounding orange orchards are torn down for suburban megacomplexes. She could make a fortune selling the house and land to the developers but she wants to hold everything together for the return of daddy. That, folks, is the only believable emotional nail in the whole story.

When Dad returns he brings with him the cockamamie idea that a buried treasure is just waiting to be uncovered somewhere very close to the house. Left by one Spanish explorer, one Father  Juan Florismarte Garces, said treasure is a cask filled to bursting with gold and more gold, just waiting to be found. Great image, right? Right. Is there a story there? Nothing that wasn't quickly dismissed in things like Don Quixote, really.

King of California is totally dependent on building relationships of trust and love between daughter and looney, with a wee bit of aid from Pepper, (Willis Burks II) a sideman in Charlie's old bad. King of California is all story tones and harmony, with barely a solid melody to hold it together

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to King of California, he would have paid . . .


For over analytical film students and film festival freaks only. Everyone else, Rent.

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