The first thing that's always stood out about Michael Douglas is his voice—deep, strong, and authoritative, it's the sound of a leader, someone who has only rarely been relegated to a supporting role. Now that he's getting old, movies like Wonder Boys and the offbeat new independent film King Of California are cleverly repurposing the Douglas persona. Now that voice, coupled with an unkempt mop of gray hair, has made him a leader in a more Quixotic sense. There's virtually no chance that Mike Cahill's wispy nothing of an adventure would work with anyone other than Douglas in the lead. With Douglas, the film's shambling charms slowly catch hold, thanks mainly to his personal magnetism, which has a way of making insane ventures sound wholly reasonable.


Released from a county medical facility, where he's been tucked away while his daughter Evan Rachel Wood finished her adolescence, Douglas hasn't really been cured of his psychosis; if anything, it seems likely that he simply wore his keepers down. Far more grounded, Wood has scraped by without a guardian since the age of 16, fetching just enough money working at McDonald's to hold down their creaky old home. Though she's glad to see her father again, Wood is rightfully concerned that Douglas' antics will break her already-tenuous hold on the house and finances. True to form, Douglas ropes her into a crackpot scheme to find the vast treasures left behind by a 17th-century Spanish explorer. She's heard his crazy stories before—"It's true, look it up," is his standard expression—but this one's a little different.

Much like the underappreciated Down In The Valley, which also stars Wood, King Of California has an evocative feeling for locale, as civilization and order encroaches on SoCal dreamers who don't fit into their homogenous designs. As Douglas and Wood embark on their quest for gold doubloons, they tread through manicured golf courses, parking lots, and construction sites, all before "X" marks the spot in the middle of a CostCo. Though their crazy-parent/sensible-child dynamic seems a little warmed-over, their whimsical mission, slight though it is, gives the film an oddly compelling sense of purpose. With Douglas leading the charge, anything's possible.