King of California
February 5, 2008
Hoping to replicate the overwhelming positive critical response he received for his performance in Wonder Boys (2000), Michael Douglas plays another quirky outsider in King of California (2007). Despite being produced by Alexander Payne (Sideways), the film enjoyed a brief theatrical run and finally makes its debut on DVD.
Miranda (Wood) works at McDonalds in order to make ends meet while her father Charlie (Douglas) spends two years in a mental institution. Her life changes once her father is released and he exhibits all sorts of odd behaviour, like taking her car out in the middle of the night to go prospecting for valuable coins. It turns out that Charlie is convinced that 17th century Spanish treasure is buried six feet under the local Costco. At first, she assumes that this is just one of his crazy obsessions but he gets her to read a book about the Spanish clergyman and his treasure. They bond over his quest to find the location of the buried treasure and much to her surprise, she finds herself getting caught up in Charlie’s adventure until reality sets in when he sells her car to help fund his treasure hunt.
Michael Douglas is excellent as the wildly eccentric Charlie. There is a mischievous glint in his eyes when he feels like he is getting closer to the treasure. The older Douglas gets and the more films he does, the more comfortable an actor he becomes. He delivers a nuanced performance that never veers off into showy scenery-chewing territory. With his mountain man beard, Douglas certainly looks the part of an ex-mental patient and, at times, seems to be channeling Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (1998).
Evan Rachel Wood plays Charlie’s extremely patient daughter and narrator of this unusual tale and so, naturally, our sympathies lie with her because she’s, y’know, the sane voice of reason. Miranda is the responsible one to Charlie’s childish antics. Wood is the ideal foil to Douglas, the straight man to his kooky eccentric.
King of California belongs to Douglas and the film sinks of swims based on how well he sells his character’s mad quest – kind of like Robin Williams’ traumatized bum in The Fisher King (1991). And while Mike Cahill is no Terry Gilliam, Douglas is more than up for taking on this wild ride with the charisma to draw us in, much like Charlie convinces Miranda to follow him.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Mike Cahill, cinematographer Jim Whitaker, production designer Dan Bishop and first assistant director Richard L. Fox. Cahill talks about how a lack of money forced him to rewrite the opening scene and improve on it. Everyone takes turns pointing out the various locations used in the film which is as boring as it sounds. They also point out dry technical details like the wonders of colour timing. It’s amazing that this commentary can be so dull with all of these skilled artists at hand but unfortunately this is the case.
“The Making of The King of California” your standard electronic press kit with soundbites from the cast and crew mixed with clips from the film. Douglas claims that this was one of the best scripts he has ever read and compares his character to Don Quixote. Cast and crew talk about the film’s two main characters and gush about the film in general.
“Outtakes” is a fairly amusing collection of blown lines, miscues and goofs.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.