The vault can be a lonely place. That’s probably why I love any reason to celebrate and today we’ve got two! First off, Brad Pitt’s apocalyptic blockbuster World War Z opens today. More importantly today, America’s lovable little sometimes-sweetheart, most-times-skank, Juliette Lewis, turns 40. Let’s send her warm wishes and a big bear hug by looking back at her second collaboration with Brad Pitt, 1993′s Kalifornia.
Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) is a journalist turned aspiring novelist thanks to an advance for his article on serial killers. The money has kept a roof over his head and gotten him a nice, gas guzzling convertible Continental, but no sparks of inspiration. His girlfriend, Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes, a photographer is in similar dire straits as her racy portfolio isn’t getting much traction. Brian decides they should join forces by visiting famous murder sites across America on their way to a new life in California, but with so little cash they post a ride-share ad. The recently fired Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) has the landlord and his parole officer breathing down his neck and, upon finding the ad, convinces his girlfriend Adele Corners they can have a better life in California. Carrie has her reservations upon meeting their new road buddies, but in need of cash the four soon find themselves heading cross-country to research serial killers; a subject that’s closer to home than Brian could ever imagine.
Originally titled California and penned by Tim Metcalfe and Stephen Levy, this thriller is the result of numerous rewrites at the hands of Metcalfe and, following his removal, director Dominic Sena and producers. I mention this because the finished Kalifornia doesn’t really captivate audiences with a tense, gripping story. Not saying it’s a bad movie, but the dramatic irony of its premise, a couple writing about serial killers end up traveling with a serial killer, is far less fascinating than the characters’ portrayals.
Let’s start with the birthday girl, Juliette Lewis, portraying the good-hearted and simple waitress Adele. A favorite line for years around the homestead has been one of the first things Adele says to Carrie, “I like your hair… ’cause it’s short.” It’s not so much the line as how beautifully Lewis delivers it. Adele’s fidgety awkwardness and puerile, gape-mouthed yammering would be annoying if her spirit wasn’t so obviously pure… despite the trashy outfits she wears for Early. Her naiveté is sad, especially as her confessions to Carrie reveal how Early uses her love for him to keep her tightly wrapped around his finger.
Early Grayce isn’t intentionally malicious towards Adele. He has a set of beliefs, albeit an antiquated and deranged set, to which he, and her, adheres. Early is a man that doesn’t believe in breakfast or that women should smoke or drink or cuss. He’s also a man that likes to dig holes buck-ass naked and arbitrarily kill people if they hinder his intentions. Pitt goes beyond the greasy hair and dingy clothes to make Early both uncouth and strangely hypnotic. There’s the unique, nasally snort, displeased sneer and a dead, glaring stare from his blue eyes that draw you in and warn you of his viciousness. Pitt’s Early doesn’t set out to cause harm, but his amorality neither deters him once the decision’s made nor restrains him from relishing the act.
The well-educated Brian, looking like a missing member of a boy band with his earring and moussed hair, is pretentious. Just as he’s enthralled by the motivations of serial killers, he becomes equally mesmerized by Early and his philosophies, but in the way the adventure will make for a good story once he’s back among the scholarly. As a writer, a role Duchovny proves time and again to play well, he pursues experiences even if it is to his own detriment.
Carrie the photographer, on the other hand, has an eye for the truth. Forbes’ employs a wide range of disgusted expressions, from furrowed brows to catch-in-throat, over Early’s attitude, opinions and actions. As a strong woman, Carrie’s dumbfounded by Adele’s subservience and her perceptiveness and apprehension puts her at odds with Brian’s obliviousness.
For all the thorough character development, the driving plot (no pun intended) of Kalifornia isn’t nearly as well mapped. Audiences see the course heading is set for the shit to hit the fan from the beginning, but even when it does, it doesn’t grab you with the dread and tension it should. Even so, there’s still something there worth watching. To paraphrase Adele, I like this movie… ’cause I like the people.”