Blu-ray Review: Kalifornia (1993)

Now Available to Own

If the men in filmmaker Dominic Sena's Kalifornia would've paid attention to the female intuition of the women in their lives, then the characters never would've attempted to take a cross-country ride with strangers.

Of course, if journalist turned author Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) and sociopathic parolee Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) hadn't ignored the misgivings of their respective girlfriends Carrie (Michelle Forbes) and Adele (Juliette Lewis), then Sena's debut feature film would've been as short as the landmark music videos he helmed for Janet Jackson's career changing Rhythm Nation 1814 album.

Creepily obsessed with the internal workings of the type of serial killers that the intellectually liberal minded Brian informs a friend should be researched and treated rather than imprisoned and fried in the electric chair, after publishing a four page magazine article on the subject, Brian nets a book deal complete with a monetary advance that he burns right through on rent and his convertible.

And while most women would most likely run in the other direction once Brian told them about his literary passion in life, viewers gather that he's met his artistic and romantic match in Carrie given her penchant for extremely erotic photography that would've made Bettie Page blush.

Choosing to collaborate on his book, Brian gives into Carrie's wish to leave Kentucky and move to California by deciding that they should spend the journey visiting the infamous locations where some of the country's most notorious killers dispatched their victims in order to inspire Brian to complete the work he owes the publishing house.

Even though Carrie is foursquare against the idea, since the two need extra money for his gas guzzling pride and joy, Brian tacks up a ride-share ad at the local university. But understandably given his description of touring murder sites, the posting garners him only one reply. And after Brian cites the old adage that “beggars can't be choosers," reluctantly Carrie finds herself sharing the vehicle with Early and Adele.

Yet despite the fact that she's the furthest thing from the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree even the hopelessly sweet, tragically innocent, but downright dimwitted Adele worries about riding with people she's never met.

However it doesn't take us too long to discover that the real person with whom Adele should be most concerned about spending her time and trusting is her own menacing boyfriend Early, whom Brian's voice-over narration soon reveals is precisely the type of unflinching, matter-of-fact murderer that he's set out to study.

Predictably the film's performances are first-rate and as often pointed out in other critiques, Juliette Lewis in particular is the very definition of heartbreaking. And regardless of its flaws, Kalifornia reminds us once again of Juliette Lewis' enviable and seemingly organic ability to simply inhabit whatever character she's playing, especially when she's given a role like this which she does better than anyone. Likewise, considering the genre and the dark mood of the piece, we're immediately fearful for Lewis' Adele in particular, knowing that more than anyone, her life is fleeting from start to finish.

To this end and perhaps because Duchovny's narration spells everything out for us, the movie doesn't really offer that much in the way of storytelling surprises. Vastly superior to the other notorious early '90s Lewis film Natural Born Killers and obviously fascinating for fans that would flock to Duchovny in The X-Files, Kalifornia also boasts quite a vicious star turn by (then) rising talent Brad Pitt.

Aptly produced by Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme, Kalifornia is presented in a rather straightforward manner with obvious cinematic inspiration coming from Badlands as well as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer that holds up very well in a crisp, technically satisfying, bonus feature free Blu-ray.

Furthermore, despite the fact that the movie doesn't really manage to heat up until it reaches the forty-five minute mark and even then we're pretty sure we know exactly where these four will end up on their journey, it's nonetheless a solidly constructed and compelling edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.