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Featured Blu-ray Review: Kalifornia

August 19th, 2010

Kalifornia - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon

Kalifornia has a reputation of being almost a Natural Born Killers knock-off, which is kind of ironic, as this movie came out first. It also earned better reviews, but bombed at the box office. Now it is making its Blu-ray debut as part of the Cult Movie line MGM is releasing. Has time been kind to the movie, or is this a second tier release?

The Movie

David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes star as a Brian and Carrie. He's a writer working on a book about serial killers, while she is a photographer. The two of them are going to take a road trip from Pittsburgh to California, while doing research about notorious serial killers along the way. However, they've nearly run out of cash. in an effort to save money, they take out an ad for a student to share trip expenses at the college where Brian is a graduate student. He bought a Lincoln Continental with the advance from his book. It's one of the only four-door convertibles ever made and it is an iconic car from the 1960s. On the other hand, it gets 8 miles to the gallon, so he needs someone to share the expenses.

However, it isn't a student that answers the ad. It's Early Grace, a parolee with a violent history who just lost his job at the mirror factory. Grace's parole officer says that if he doesn't go to a job interview the officer set up, he's going back to jail for not reporting that he got fired. That job is for a janitor positon at the very university where Brian is a student. Early goes and sees the ad. He convinces his girlfriend, Adele, to accept on his behalf, figuring her innocent nature would be more palatable than his scruffy appearance. Carrie immediately balks at the idea of traveling across the country with him, but Brian convinces her that she is being prejudice because of his looks and the foursome begin their journey.

Of course, it doesn't take too long before Early's violent streak is exposed and Brian and Carrie become virtual hostages on their journey.

This film fits nicely in the, "What would you do if...?" sub-genre of thrillers. What would you do if you were pushed to defend yourself, even if it meant you had to kill someone? The problem is, we know this is the question the filmmakers are asking, so there's little suspense as to the outcome of the movie. We know where it is going and it is just a matter of following the characters as they get there. The predictability is arguably the film's biggest weakness. Another weakness is the voiceover. When done well, voiceovers can add a new dimension to a very effective film. We can hear the inner thoughts of the characters and get to know them on a much deeper level. However, many times they feel like they are tacked on in the end because test audiences found the film too difficult to follow. Instead of being an integral part of the movie, it is just an afterthought. I don't have inside information as to whether this is the case here, but it certainly feels that way.

Of the four main actors, Brad Pitt comes out looking the best and his character is the most engaging. (It helps that he is playing against type.) Juliette Lewis and David Duchovny are playing parts that are too similar to other parts I've seen them play, while Michelle Forbes' character didn't register enough for me to make a judgment. Not sure if this is because of the actor, the script, or the director.

Kalifornia is a thriller about serial killers that has a message it wants to give to avoid being exploitative. There's a reason a lot of people compare it to Natural Born Killers. Another point of comparison: neither film is truly successful in what they are trying to accomplish. At least this film doesn't let too much style get in the way of the story. For fans of the genre, or those looking for a different side of Brad Pitt, it is worth checking out.

The Extras

There are no extras on the Blu-ray, except for the trailer. There is a DVD flipper disc that comes in the combo pack, including both the rated and unrated version of the movie, while the Blu-ray only has the unrated version. It also has a 5-minute making of featurette. So the DVD has more special features than the Blu-ray.

At least the Blu-ray looks and sound great, especially for a rather low-budget film from nearly 20 years ago. It's not reference material in either category, but it is better than expected. However, for shovelware, it is a little pricey. And no, I don't consider the flipper disc to be a big selling point; I don't think a lot of people will be excited about watching the movie in non-anamorphic widescreen, and especially not in Pan & Scan.

The Verdict

MGM is in a bit of trouble finacially. Okay, a lot of trouble. In order to make it out of the mess it finds itself in, it needs to convince people its biggest asset, its catalog of titles, is worth a lot of money. Showing these titles will sell in High Definition is the first step in proving that. However, Kalifornia's debut on Blu-ray, is pure shovelware. Even if you are a fan of the movie, spending $20 on a featureless Blu-ray is hard to accept.

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