Shakespeare, and others, believed that every good story must have an unusual coincidence that the reader must accept, no matter how improbable. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with Shakespeare, so I’m going to give both him and Kalifornia the benefit of the doubt.
A writer, Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) and his girlfriend / photographer, Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes) must travel from Pennsylvania to California while researching serial killers for the book he has not yet written but owes to a publisher. However, because Kessler already spent the advance and has little to show for it, he posts an ad at a local college looking for riders heading to California and willing to pay for gas money. The coincidence arrives in the form of Early Grace (Brad Pitt) and Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis). He’s a violent parolee who can’t keep a job. She’s, well, she – um – she’s an under-educated waitress who doesn’t mind showing skin and likes cactus plants. Early’s parole officer sends him to a local college for a custodian job, but instead of the job, he finds and answers Brian’s ad for a rider. Thus, a coincidence is born.
They periodically stop to take notes and pictures at the crime scene locations for various serial killers. As Brian keeps audio notes on a mini-cassette player, Carrie takes artistic pictures that waver in avante garde and provocative territory. The more the four of them get to know each other, the more we can see the collision course on which they are headed. Adele proves herself a dimwit nearly every time she speaks, explaining to Carrie what Early allows and does not allow her to do. Meanwhile, Early pries into Brian’s business and shows a suspicious amount of interest and opinion on the topic of murder and motive.
As characters – Brian, Carrie, Early, and Adele are nothing new. Brian is low key and introspective, as writers are usually portrayed. Carrie’s style is as “new wave” as anything from the 80’s. Early and Adele are just typical trash. Although they themselves are “predictable” as people, where the story takes them and what each does is not so expected – but I’m going to leave an asterisk here * and come back to this later.
On the down side, Carrie and Adele are not as developed as they should be in terms of the story. As individuals, however, they’re just fine. Adele’s childlike innocence/borderline stupidity makes her like an idealistic child hoping for a pony on Christmas morning. She’s too dumb to hold her responsible, but she also doesn’t do enough to deserve the pony. However, a film can only support so many characters before things are a bit diluted. Upside, in this type of film, Adele is usually joining with Early as they start killing people while humping each other near the bodies, but Adele just stays the sympathetic idiot. That’s a good thing. Carrie, meanwhile, is there for sporadic nudity and a sounding board for Adele’s conversations to prove how dumb she is.
Although Kalifornia is a little more than 20 years old, this is close to Brad Pitt’s best performance, if not better than his role in Twelve Monkeys. You know he’s a time bomb, you know he’s bound for Hell, but you don’t know just when the cork will come out of the bottle and what’s going to spill out. Even when he does exactly the right thing, such as calling someone “Sir” or giving a polite handshake, you just can’t help but wonder if this is going to be the time he pulls a knife. Oh, he pulls one. More than one. But he’s both nuts and bright enough to not pull the knife unless he truly must. “Must” is relative. If he needs cash – must. If he’s insulted in a bar – must.
Let’s go to the * asterisk. Although more than 90% of Kalifornia was original and well done, the ending fell into the grooves of most other killer-thriller. It literally is a 12-step program:
- Good guys learn that the bad guys are bad.
- Good guys shoot mouths off at bad guys.
- Bad guys know that good guys can’t be trusted.
- Bad guys tie up good guys, beat the crap out of them.
- One good guy escapes bad guys.
- Good guy “gets the drop” on bad guy.
- Good guy knocks out bad guy.
- Good guy leaves bad guy on the ground.
- Good guy tends to injured other good guy.
- Good guy forgets about bad guy.
- Bad guy reappears and beats up good guy.
- Good guy eventually stops bad guy.
Just one time – one time – please just one time, let the good guy be smart enough to keep his mouth shut when he realizes he’s dealing with a psycho. Just shut up, go along with the psycho, and wait for a chance to run like hell. Just once. Am I asking too much? I don’t think so.
There were a few technical errors that we’ve also seen time after time, such as the car sliding out of control on a dirt road, yet we hear the stock tire screech that you can’t hear on a dirt road. What’s up with that? No award for sound editing, that’s for sure.
Teacher gives it a B+
I watched Kalifornia because of my participation in a “Secret Santa Swap” sponsored by my favorite entertainment website – CineKatz.com. The film I submitted for the swap was Kumaré. I’m glad I saw Kalifornia, and I hope you get a chance to see Kumaré.