*. This is a movie I could barely finish watching. Not because of the violence (it isn’t that violent), but for a couple of other reasons.
*. In the first place, it’s predictable. It signals right away where it’s going and then it goes there. I don’t think there’s a single scene in this movie that doesn’t play out just the way you’d expect. And it’s so programmatic. The set-up introduces us to the well-groomed yuppies and the trailer-trash. Evil, in the form of killer Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) easily seduces pretty boy Brian (David Duchovny). Carrie (Michelle Forbes) feels sorry for the mentally challenged Adele (Juliette Lewis).
*. There might have been something interesting to say about the total incompatibility of these characters because of their different social classes, which would complement their journey through a rusty American wasteland, but that’s not how it plays. It’s simpler than that. Brian has to leave his ivory tower and confront the reality that thus far he has only written about. This will make him not only a better writer (surely the book deal he gets out of this road trip will be in the six figures), but a sadder and a wiser man. Carrie takes erotic photos that only suggest rawness. Her experiences with Early will show her how phony all that was. Do you get it? It’s all pretty hard to miss.
*. Most reviewers were impressed by the performances. Not me. Duchovny, appearing here just before his X-Files stardom, does what would become his usual dry and laid-back routine. He really only has the one register as an actor. Juliette Lewis is fine as Adele, but her character isn’t exactly complex. She’d add slightly more depth playing a similar part the next year in Natural Born Killers. Pitt’s Early is a caricature down to the tics like the oinking noise he makes. For my money the only cast member who really stands out is Michelle Forbes, who was either pushed to the background of the theatrical posters or entirely erased from them. She went on to mainly work in television. Things like that happen in Hollywood.
*. The other reason I found Kalifornia hard to watch has to do with that element of caricature I mentioned. This may have been residue from an earlier version of the script that imagined the story as a black comedy, but whatever the explanation for it the thing is that you get sick of caricatures after a while. And boy did I ever get sick of Early and Adele. I just couldn’t understand how Brian and Carrie were able to stand being in a car with them for five minutes, much less five days. For all the “seductiveness of evil” that Early represents this was too much for me to buy into.
*. Maybe it’s for these reasons that I couldn’t get into Kalifornia more. It’s a good-looking movie though, and competently put together. Dominic Sena’s feature debut, and you might have expected he’d go on to better things. That’s not how it worked out. He hasn’t been prolific. Swordfish wasn’t bad, though it didn’t rate with critics. Whiteout and Season of the Witch were disasters. How odd that in a movie featuring two stars on the verge of breaking out the best work would be by a director and actor who went on to have otherwise quiet careers. Hollywood!