King of California (Mexico/United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

King of California is the second movie opening this month to feature Evan Rachel Wood and, while it's better than the other one (Across the Universe), it's not that much better. Wood's performance is at about the same level, albeit without the singing. Here's she's paired opposite Michael Douglas, who plays her father. This is the art-house answer to National Treasure - it's about a mentally ill man who believes he has found a treasure map. The movie develops in two pieces - one dealing with the quest for the hidden riches and once concentrating on the relationship between father and daughter. The latter works; the former doesn't. The ending is touching without being too melodramatic.

Charlie (Douglas) has just been released from a stay in a mental hospital but to his older-than-her-16-years daughter, Miranda (Wood), he doesn't seem much better. She admits that in their relationship, she has always been the responsible one, and that hasn't changed. However, during her two years living without parental supervision, she has become comfortable and self-sufficient; Charlie's return makes everything harder, especially since he's convinced he has broken the code that will lead him to Spanish gold. With Miranda mostly at his side (except when he does something to alienate her), he doggedly pursues the clues, until he finds the spot: directly under the concrete floor of a local Costco's. In order to get to the treasure - if there is any - Charlie and Miranda will have to break into the store after hours and jackhammer through the floor. Meanwhile, as Charlie dreams of glory, Miranda yearns for something much simpler: a dishwasher.

The chemistry between Wood and Douglas is unforced, and the role reversal is in full swing. Still in her teens, Miranda has been forced by circumstances to play the "parent." Despite being in his 60s, Charlie is the moody, irresponsible "kid." As the movie progresses, their prickly relationship softens, helped in part by Miranda's growing understanding of how important the treasure quest is for her father and by his increasing awareness of what a profoundly bad parent he has been. Burgeoning understanding helps them bridge a gulf of resentment and mistrust.

Unfortunately, first-time director Mike Cahill spends an inordinate amount of time dealing with the nuances of the hunt and caper and, even with his attempts to add in a dash of comedy, he can't redeem this aspect of the project. It's dull and repetitive and feels like filler, but it occupies at least 50% of the running time. Maybe this is a reaction to the success of features like National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code, but the process of chasing clues doesn't work any better here than it did in those films. As the movie progresses, there's a mounting sense of frustration because valuable screen time that could be employed further excavating the Charlie/Miranda dynamic is being funneled into using a backhoe to dig up some broken bits of pottery.

King of California (Mexico/United States, 2007)

Director: Mike Cahill
Cast: Michael Douglas, Evan Rachel Wood
Screenplay: Mike Cahill
Cinematography: Jim Whitaker
Music: Daniel Robins
U.S. Distributor: First Look
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2007-09-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1