Services like Netflix and YouTube have made the most recent films readily available to anyone. It’s easy to see the movies that have recently come to DVD and be able to enjoy them whenever you desire. Of course, instant view services are also loaded with discarded and forgotten films that only occasionally show their heads from the primordial film abyss. Can we find anything of value in the muck of b-movies, ambitious failures and exploitative crap-fests? We’re going to find out in Dispatches from Instant View Purgatory.
What’re we watching: “Kalifornia,” a 1993 film from Dominic Sena, who would go onto direct “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “Swordfish” and “Seasons of The Witch.”
What does it resemble: It’s strangely a lot like if “Collateral” met a serial-killer obsessed Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
What’s going on: David Duchovny plays Brian, a journalist researching a book on serial killers with his artist girlfriend, played by The Killing’s Michelle Forbes. He decides to visit the locations of famous murders around the country and in order to pay for the trip, he asks for people to come along.
A young up and coming actor named Brad Pitt plays a psychopathic convict named Earl who drags his girlfriend, played by Juliette Lewis, on the trip to escape his parole. Things quickly go awry, and the trip becomes more of an elaborate hostage situation filled with booze, objectification of women and murder.
Why haven’t we heard of this: “Kalifornia” has a couple of really great ideas going for it, but Sena is transfixed by a couple of terrible ideas, namely Lewis’ obsession with cacti, giving Duchovny a pile of terrible monologues to do and generally stating that modern art is, in Brad Pitt’s words, “stanky.”
What works: Duchovny is essentially playing his most known role, Agent Fox Mulder from The X-Files, which is something that I will always watch. Juliette Lewis gets a lot of great moments as a girl too young to understand how far in over her head she is, and she plays a moment late in the film with Pitt perfectly.
What doesn’t: If there’s one thing everyone who watches this movie will take away from it is Brad Pitt does probably the worst Georgia accent ever recorded on film. It’s mind numbingly bad, and it robs his character the chance to be as creepy as the film wants him to be. He’s watching Forbes as she dresses, listens as she has sex with Duchovny and looks people in the eye as he has sex with Lewis, but I was never horrified. It was always just kind of silly or off-putting.
Skip to…: There’s a home invasion scene late in the movie that’s appropriately tense and features the aforementioned Lewis and Pitt talk. The film’s climax takes place in an abandoned nuclear testing site, in a house filled with mannequins all left in sexual positions. It’s creepy and goes back to the film’s unspoken focus on objectification of women. A better director could have made both of these scenes iconic, but instead, they’re just serviceable.
The Verdict: It’s an above average, but deeply, deeply flawed movie. Sena’s got no guts behind the camera and doesn’t understand how to use the script as effectively as he should, leaving many of the biggest moments of the film flat and forgettable, even though what’s happening on screen is exciting and interesting. There’s a much better, very frightening film about the nature of murderers and about the women who flock to them, hidden inside “Kalifornia.”