King of California

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PARK CITY -- Filmmaker Michael Cahill's first feature is an amiable and funny dysfunctional-family drama about a father and daughter discovering that the true value lying beneath the surface of their combative relationship is the promise that their sundered familial bond is ripe for renewal.

Intermittent narrative lapses and a slight dramatic disconnect in two otherwise fine lead performances don't diminish the film's low-key indie aesthetic and attractive production values, making this a smart selection for specialty distributors and a strong contender for ongoing festival play.

Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood), 16, has been living alone in the family home for two years since Mom ran off and her free-spirited but bipolar father, Charlie (Michael Douglas), entered a mental institution. She has dropped out of school and supports herself by working double shifts at McDonald's. His stay in the psychiatric facility completed, Charlie returns home to join Miranda, but it's not exactly a joyful family reunion.

She resents her father's poor parenting and is suspicious of his mental and emotional faculties. She displays barely restrained hostility by calling him Charlie and frequently questions his judgment. Her reservations intensify as Charlie gradually reveals his grand scheme to unearth the treasure of 17th century Spanish explorer Father Juan Florismarte Garces that he insists is buried in their Southern California neighborhood,

A true California dreamer, Charlie isn't about to be deterred in his quest by Miranda, deploying reams of research on the Garces expedition, including detailed maps, metal detectors, GPS tracking devices and a diesel-powered backhoe in his search. With manic enthusiasm and limitless energy, he gradually persuades Miranda to join the hunt.

Their search leads them to the local Costco, where Charlie believes Garces' gold lies buried six feet below the poured-concrete floor. He persuades Miranda to take a job at the store, and with his old pal Pepper (Willis Burks II), begins planning a break-in.

Writer-director Cahill's script is strongest when his characters are playing against one another. It occasionally falters on the finer points of plot -- like failing to establish how the long-unemployed Charlie can possibly finance his treasure hunt -- and misses opportunities to develop any significant subplots.

Cahill begins the film with a brief scene of the Costco caper, then flashes back five months to Charlie's release before picking the story line up again. While this device works well for the setup, intermittent flashbacks to Miranda's childhood throughout the film -- demonstrating Charlie's iconoclastic moral values and questionable parenting skills -- become repetitive, failing to add nuance or information.

Otherwise, the film is fairly straightforward narratively and stylistically. Cinematographer James Whitaker contributes some nicely shot nighttime scenes. Dan Bishop's production design suits Charlie and Miranda's laid-back California lifestyle, existing in opposition to the homogeneity of the corporate culture that surrounds them.

Douglas, sporting shaggy hair and a beard, nails Charlie's manic attitude in nearly every scene, conveying his character's desperate attempt to make something significant out of his life and show his daughter he's not a loser. Wood is less certain as Miranda. Still, she conveys the girl's ambivalence and smothered affection toward her father. Curiously, the two actors sometimes seem to fall out of synch in their joint scenes.

KING OF CALIFORNIA
Millennium Films presents in association with Emmett/Furla Films an Alexander Payne/Michael London production
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Michael Cahill
Producers: Avi Lerner, Randall Emmett, Alexander Payne, Michael London
Executive producers: Boaz Davidson, George Furla, Elisa Salinas, John Thompson, Trevor Short, Danny Dimbort
Director of photography: James Whitaker
Production designer: Dan Bishop
Music: David Robbins
Costume designers: Ellen Mirojnick, Michael Dennison
Editor: Glenn Garland
Cast:
Charlie: Michael Douglas
Miranda: Evan Rachel Wood
Pepper: Willis Burks II
Running time -- 92 minutes
No MPAA rating
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