Film review: Shadowy 'King' wastes the talents of its cast

Subplot distasteful, and story becomes increasingly absurd

Published: Friday, Aug. 25 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as an ex-Navy man in "The King."

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"THE KING" — ** — Gael Garcia Bernal, William Hurt, Pell James; rated R (sex, violence, profanity, brief nudity, brief gore, vulgarity).

The main character in "The King" deliberately withholds information from people, to keep them in the dark about his true motives and intentions. And that's also true of the film, which is deliberately vague and shadowy.

In a lot of ways, it's also reminiscent of "Down in the Valley," another recent movie with a similarly, possibly unhinged character in the central role. But while that film wasted the talents of Edward Norton, this film wastes the talents of the entire cast, led by up-and-comer Gael Garcia Bernal ("The Motorcycle Diaries").

Bernal stars as Elvis Valderez, a young man who's recently been discharged from the U.S. Navy. Elvis is headed to Texas to find the man he believes is his biological father, David Sandow (an underused William Hurt).

But when he gets there, the reception he receives is anything but warm. David, the pastor of his own church, is happily married and has two teenage children. So he has no place in his life for this mysterious newcomer.

In retaliation, Elvis decides to seduce David's naive, virginal daughter, Malerie (Pell James, from "Broken Flowers"). And he continues to skulk outside of the Sandow family's home, for reasons known only to himself.

The incestuous, half-brother/half-sister relationship subplot is distasteful, to say the least, and the plotting gets increasingly ludicrous as the film goes along. Also, not to give anything crucial away, but co-screenwriter/director James Marsh kills off his most interesting and appealing character about midway through.

That leaves us with Bernal's Elvis, who's such a cipher that he's dull and doesn't seem like a threat, despite what his actions might say about him.

"The King" is rated R for simulated sex and other sexual contact, some strong violence (a stabbing, shootings and hunting violence), some strong sexual profanity and other crude sexual language, brief female nudity and brief gore. Running time: 103 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com