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Thursday, October 21, 2010

KALIFORNIA [Blu-Ray] -- DVD review by porfle

(Blu-Ray comments by Ian Friedman.)

Seeing the tense road thriller KALIFORNIA (1993) shortly after it first came out is the reason that I never viewed Brad Pitt as just another pretty-boy actor.  This was the one of the first movies I ever saw him in, and his character, a sleazy, parole-jumping serial killer named Early Grayce, is about as unglamorous as you can get. 

David Duchovny, trying to get a film career off the ground just as "The X-Files" began to take off, plays a psychology grad student named Brian Kessler who's writing a book about serial killers.  He decides to drive from Atlanta to California with his girlfriend Carrie (Michelle Forbes, "Homocide: Life on the Streets") and stop off at various famous murder scenes along the way for research.  But in order to share expenses for the trip he invites none other than Early and his ditzy girlfriend Adele (Juliette Lewis) along for the ride, getting way more than he bargained for. 

Director Dominic Sena (SWORDFISH) keeps things interesting as Brian and Carrie begin to discover just how dangerous their traveling companion is.  At first, Brian likes having such a colorful character to observe and is intrigued by his violent nature, which is demonstrated when Early beats the crap out of a guy in a bar.  Soon, however, he discovers that Early has been leaving a trail of bodies during their journey.  When Early kills one cop and then insists that Brian finish off the other one, the not-too-bright college boy realizes too late just how deep he's gotten himself into. 

If you've never seen this side of Brad Pitt, his portrayal of scum-of-the-earth Early may come as a real surprise.  (One thing's for sure--this is probably the only time we'll ever see Brad blow his nose through his fingers.)  As Adele, Juliette Lewis plays her patented dingbat character to a tee, gaining our sympathy with her childlike naiveté and constant desire for acceptance not only by Early but also by the intellectual Brian and Carrie, whom she regards as her betters.

Michelle Forbes, a fine actress known almost solely for her television work (she was Ensign Ro on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and more recently played Admiral Helena Cain on "Battlestar Galactica") does what she can with the role of Carrie.  David Duchovny is his usual low-key, somewhat unremarkable self as Brian--sort of like Fox Mulder as an overconfident doofus.  Unfortunately, this film didn't do much for his big-screen career, and he's barely featured in the film's advertising these days if at all.

KALIFORNIA arrives on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox/MGM with the unrated version of the film in HD. The movie looks nice in it's original 2:35:1 scope and has a normal amount of grain. The picture and detail are sharp and the colors are neither over or de-saturated achieving a good balance allowing for an accurate representation of the original movie-going experience. There were no noticable compression errors. This film was never a summer blockbuster experience, but it still looks very nice on Blu-ray. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is acceptable as the movie is more character-driven than heavily action-oriented your sound system doesn't really get a heavy workout.

You just know that sooner or later Early's really bad side is going to turn against his fellow travelers, and when it does, KALIFORNIA delivers a violent and fairly satisfying conclusion which takes place on a nuclear test site in Nevada.  It's not really what I'd call a classic, but with a good cast and a pretty involving story, it should keep you in suspense till the journey's end.

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