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King of California

Anyone with a dysfunctional family (admit it, that's every one of us) will find something to laugh--and maybe cry--about in the quirky comedy King of California.


Charlie (Michael Douglas) has been a mess for quite a while. A jazz musician, who has battled schizophrenia and manic depression for years, has spent the last couple living in a mental hospital. His 16-year-old daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) has been living on her own in the family home (mom is long gone), having quit school and gone to work at McDonald's to make ends meet. When Charlie is released and comes home, the pair begins to tentatively rebuild their relationship. The good news is that Charlie is taking his meds and handling the real world reasonably well; the bad is that he's developed an obsession with a legendary cache of Spanish gold doubloons, reportedly buried near their dusty California home. When Charlie begins to convince Miranda that he really isn't crazy--at least when it comes to the treasure--together they begin a Don Quixote-like journey that cements their fractured relationship back together.


Forget Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, the ultra-smooth Wall Street guy, or as dashing Jack Colton of Romancing the Stone fame. These days Douglas, now 62, has said he needs a really good reason to leave his family, so this role, where he can play a scraggly bearded, wild-eyed, edge-of-nuts guy, is just the ticket. Douglas gives one of his best performances ever as Charlie, striking just the right balance of intellect, insanity, and inherent love for his no-longer-little girl. Plus, the man whose on-screen persona has often been all about male vanity is anything but that in King of California. He's a scrawny whippet of a guy, rather than a hunky leading man, and it's a transformation that just may get him another Academy Award nomination. Meanwhile, 20-year-old Evan Rachel Wood proves that she really is an acting force to be reckoned with, giving a gently nuanced performance as a girl who has had to grow up way too soon, yet still completely loves the father who has struggled to care for her as he struggles with his personal demons.


First-time writer/director Mike Cahill has done a first-rate job of bringing this quirky, funny, and slightly poignant story to the screen. Perhaps the reason he's been so successful is in the company he keeps. A film-school friend of Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt), Cahill enlisted his producing help for his film, along with Payne's Sideways partner Michael London. King of California bears Cahill's own stamp, however--a combination of terrific visuals that often make wry satiric statements deftly melded with an assortment of memorable characters and situations. Perhaps his biggest strength is in the casting of the film, in his choice of the two talented actors who bring a believability and sense of real family ties to their roles. With King of California, Cahill begins what looks to be a long and beautiful friendship with moviegoers who love to be transported to interesting and funny places.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.