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King of California

The Monarch of Madness

There have been many movies about treasure hunting, but none quite like this one. First time writer and director Mike Cahill brings us a sweet, quirky comedy about fathers and daughters, Spanish gold and, of course, Costco. Three very disparate things which pull King of California in three different directions.

Responsible and mature, 16-year old Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) works at McDonald's, struggles to pay the bills and lives completely on her own, that is until her father, Charlie (Michael Douglas), is released from the mental institution he's been holed up in for the past two years. It becomes immediately clear that, perhaps, he had been let out a tad too early. Especially when he reveals his quest to find a stash of missing treasure -- gold doubloons lost by a Father Torres in the 17th century.

Miranda is exasperated and disappointed yet indulges her father as it's the only means she has to get closer to him. Winner of the Worst Father of the Year award, Charlie's obsession leads them to Costco, where X marks the spot. Along with some help from his old friend Pepper (Willis Burks II), the three put their foolhardy plan into motion. And what seems like a father-daughter comedy turns, oddly, into a caper flick, making the film seem as bi-polar as Charlie himself.

Douglas does a good job of being a character who's completely disjointed from reality. The few scenes of him doing his "crazy eyes" are worth the entire film. But he is no where as near as good as he was in Wonder Boys. Likewise, Wood's performance here does not match up to her outstanding turn in 2003's Thirteen. She seems flat and lifeless at times.

Of course, that could also be the script. It's difficult to be off-beat and quirky and still retain a degree of character complexity and depth. Elements that are just plain sad and pathetic aren't given the sense of levity they deserve. Furthermore, the movie is all over the place. There's a jazz motif, a dramatic back story, the issue of gentrification and development, a history lesson, and familial dysfunction and none are explored to satisfaction. While the shots are framed well and the direction is interesting, King of California is too reliant on voiceover, which takes away from the film's momentum. And most people prefer their treasure hunts to be exciting.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


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