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Kalifornia Movie Review

lewis pitt forbes film

The flat voiceover narration gives us the road map for Kalifornia. A writer (David Duchovny) and his photographer girlfriend (Michelle Forbes) are en route to California, doing a word-and-picture tour of the locales of famous American murders along the way. To share expenses, they accept, sight unseen, the companionship of serial killer Brad Pitt and his deliberately oblivious girlfriend, Juliette Lewis. At first glance, Forbes observes that Pitt and Lewis are dumb, and Lewis decides that Duchovny and Forbes are strange. The two men, however, form an inexplicable bond, so all four hit the road. The writer (shades of silly Geraldine Chaplin searching for symbolism with her tape recorder in Nashville here) feels that by visiting murder sites and recording his observations, he will understand how and why people kill. And, of course, all the time, Pitt is wiping people out in men's restrooms and service stations; it takes the others half the movie to get a firm grasp of the obvious. Screenwriter Tim Metcalfe finds this situation amusing; the old educated-hicks-want-to-experience-real-life-but-fall-to-pieces-when-they-do formula. The film works best when the focus is on Juliette Lewis, clearly one of the best actresses of her generation and absolutely fearless about exposing the truth of her characters, without a flicker of self-protective reserve. Like all great actors, she works from the inside out; director Dominic Sena gives her props and bits of business to work with, but she works equally well with the force of her naked emotions. We might split a gut if anyone else summed up a serial killer with an inadequate description like “mean,” but Lewis breaks your heart with the sequence. There ain't a question in your mind that while she's raging at Pitt, she means it. Unfortunately, none of the rest of the cast is in Lewis’ league. Forbes is a good actress; she might very well wrap up another movie, but not 1994's Swimming with Sharks, for reasons beyond her control. In Kalifornia, she is an excellent foil for Lewis, and the two women share some of the film's best moments. The sequences with Pitt and Duchovny work less well. Both actors work from the outside in, and the impact of their performances is nowhere near as intense as the basic narrative would have you believe. Kalifornia is mostly an absorbing film and it looks great. The film would have done even better if it had taken its emotional cue from the unforced honesty of Juliette Lewis, instead of trying to wring existential mileage out of the unanswerable questions posed by its dippy protagonist.

1993 (R) 117m/C Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, Michelle Forbes, Sierra Pecheur, Lois Hall, Gregory Mars Martin; D: Dominic Sena; W: Tim Metcalfe; C: Bojan Bazelli; M: Carter Burwell. VHS, LV, Letter-box, Closed Caption, DVD

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