'California': Fool's Gold

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Perhaps the measure of a movie star is how they play in loosey-goosey roles -- when the high-profile pressure, supposedly, is off. Are they convincing a la John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction," or do they just look like major celebs on the slum?

Watching Michael Douglas in "King of California," you have to point to the latter. As Charlie, a wild-haired, eccentric dad who has emerged from a stint in a mental institution, he's all frizzed-out hair, wild eyes and untrimmed beard as he chomps the scenery.

Forever hatching nutty schemes, Charlie tells his long-suffering, devoted 16-year-old daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) that he has old documents that will reveal the location of the buried gold of a 17th-century Spanish explorer. The location, father and daughter discover after much excavation and head-scratching, is underneath a Costco. "California," essentially, becomes a heist movie, as father, daughter and an old friend figure out how to drill, dig and retrieve.

For all the fun he pretends to be having, Douglas remains distractingly on the surface. Clearly we're supposed to think of him as one of those, you know, "funny" insane people. Wood, an otherwise superb performer, is stuck with a thankless purpose: perpetually rolling her eyes or expressing disapproval while signaling her eternal devotion to him. There's so little authenticity between them, it destroys the story's most crucial element: the love between father and daughter. And finding the gold becomes our only reason to watch.

-- Desson Thomson

King of California PG-13, 96 minutes Contains profanity and drug use. At Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema. King of California PG-13, 96 minutes Contains profanity and drug use. At Cinema Arts Theatre and Landmark's E Street Cinema.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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