There are times when I’m browsing the bargain bins that are filled with a mountain of some of the most random, and often obscure movies that I could possibly find and I get surprised. One of these surprises was when I found a film from 1993 that I’ve never heard of called Kalifornia. The packaging seemed interesting and it starred David Duchovney before he became known for his role in The X-Files and a young Brad Pitt before his career even took off. I really know nothing about this movie so getting it was a complete gamble, but sometimes it’s possible to find a small gem in a container filled with trash.
Brian Kessler (David Duchovney) and Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes) are an artistic yuppie couple with dreams of moving to California, where they feel all of the jobs and inspiration will be, especially since Brian can’t get his new book on serial killers started. Unfortunately for the two artists, they don’t have the money to get to California, which makes Brian think he can find someone else trying to get to California to come with them and help them pay, while stopping at famous murder sites to get pictures and information for his book. Enter the lower class hillbilly couple Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) and his childish girlfriend Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis), who also have dreams of moving to California. While the relationship between the two couples is strained at best, but what Brian and Carrie don’t know can hurt them. A subject for Brian’s book may be closer than he thinks with Early being an ex-con who’s breaking parole, but who is also wanted for murdering multiple people.
I want to get the bad out of the way, because this movie really did have a positive effect on me. First of all, Duchovney’s performance is rather flat, and I feel like part of that is because the character is pretty flat. His voice over is pretty bad as well, but that’s mostly due to his monotone voice which works well for Fox Mulder on The X-Files, but not so much for his character here. Another problem I had here is that the writing is pretty baffling at points, which means that things happen and I really have a hard time buying some of the things that happened in this movie. Along with this is that there is really a lot of material to work with in terms of suspense and conflict, but it isn’t really used to its full potential.
While Duchovney’s performance and some of the writing may be questionable, these things don’t ruin the movie at all. In fact, I thought this movie was surprisingly entertaining. I like looking at this movie like a road trip film with a sadistic twist. Looking at it only as a horror/thriller may the wrong way to go. Being a road move/horror film is a cool and interesting combination. Another surprising thing was the questions and points that the movie brought up, topics that I wasn’t expecting to be explored. One is the difference of two cultures, one being the yuppie/art culture and the other being the lower class/hillbilly culture. Both of the couples are hammed up and portrayed as stereotypes, but it works well for the sake of a plot device and a possible discussion point. More interesting to me are the brief moments of dialogue and questions on the psychology of serial killers, and if they should be locked up or killed, or if they should be put in a mental institution and treated. Kalifornia doesn’t answer these questions, but allows the viewer to have their own opinions on the topic.
There’s nothing entirely special about the directing by Dominic Sena, who started with music videos (and that occasionally shows), but there are a few moments that were pretty cool. What makes this movie seeing more than anything else are the performance by Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis. Pitt seems really deep in his role, and there’s a story where he chipped his tooth opening up a beer while in character and decided to keep the tooth chipped because it worked well for his character. He does seem a bit over the top at times, but he keeps that level throughout the entire movie and I believe that he became Early Grayce. As great as Pitt is, the real scene stealer is Juliette Lewis. While I have always considered her a good actor, her performance in Kalifornia can easily be called great. Her character is played to perfection and is the deepest and most tragic aspect of the entire movie. She is fantastic and plays childish innocence very well, and her and Pitt’s chemistry are note perfect.
Kalifornia was a great find and having spent five whole dollars on it, I definitely feel like I got more than I payed for. This movie is by no means a classic, nor is it going to be remembered and talked about for the years to come. However, as far movies go, this is a really fun movie that is actually a lot better than I thought it was going to be. The whole idea is great, but unfortunately can’t achieve that greatness because the elements aren’t used to their full potential. If anything, you should see this movie for Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis alone, but as a whole I can still recommend this movie. It isn’t anything special, but it works just fine.