‘Kalifornia’: a forgotten gem from the 1990s

The year was 1993. Bill Clinton was president. Almost no one had heard of the Internet yet. (I certainly hadn’t.) Most cars still had cassette decks. And life was much, much simpler than it is today.

But there were plenty of sinister goings-on in the movies. Released in September of 1993, Kalifornia is a road thriller movie starring Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, and Michelle Forbes. It’s one worth watching, even though it got lost amid the sea of good movies to come out around that time. (The 1990s was a good decade for film, on balance.)

Here’s the set-up: A graduate student (Duchovny) and his girlfriend (Forbes) plan to drive from Louisville, Kentucky to Los Angeles. Along the way, they will photograph famous murder sites. (There’s a book deal in the works.)

The problem? They are short on funds. So they place a ride share ad in their campus newspaper. No Craigs List in 1993, alas.

Who should answer the ad but Early Grayce (Pitt), a sociopathic, homicidal parolee, and his developmentally impaired girlfriend, Adele Corners (Lewis). The odd couple begin their cross-country ride, and bad things predictably happen.

Say what you will about Brad Pitt, but the guy is a good actor. He is thoroughly convincing as a sinister redneck outlaw. We haven’t seen much of Juliette Lewis in a while, but she’s good in this movie, too. The following year, Lewis would play a similar role in Natural Born Killers, as the cold-blooded love interest of mass murderer Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson).

(Speaking of Natural Born Killers: I watched that movie shortly after it came out in 1994, and I found it to be one of the most overrated films of the 1990s.)

Kalifornia, by contrast, is a now mostly forgotten gem. If you’re in the mood for something dark and suspenseful from the Clinton years, skip Natural Born Killers, and give Kalifornia a try.