A former rock ‘n’ roller withers on the vine in “California Solo,” Marshall Lewy’s forgettable sophomore effort (after a promising beginning with “Blue State”). While Robert Carlyle turns in a committed performance as Lachlan, an alcoholic and guilt-ridden Scottish guitarist who’s hung up his axe to work on a Southern California organic farm, the pic’s theatrical options Stateside appear bleak, with more fertile fields in non-U.S. English lingo territories and vid platforms.
Given plenty of space here for bluster, monologues and hard drinking, even Carlyle can’t manage to make the burnout that is Lachlan more than a barely likable (and mostly annoying) case of self-destruction in action. Lachlan’s inability, or unwillingness, to correct his ways, combined with his second-fiddle (or guitar in this case) role in long-forgotten Brit grunge-era band the Cranks, makes him a quintessential Little Man, but one without much depth or compelling interest.
This is a major problem for what’s fundamentally a character study, starting with sylvan days in the fields of Robinson Farms, just north of Los Angeles, where Lachlan works farming and then selling his produce at various farmers’ markets. In his off time, he hosts a podcast titled “Flameouts,” about famous musicians who died too soon, but his favorite recreational activity is boozing it up at the local bar. After one such night, he’s arrested on a DUI.
Despite his green-card status — Lachlan says he practically feels like an American citizen — he learns that this arrest, combined with an old warrant for possession of pot when he was touring with the Cranks, could compel U.S. immigration services to deport him back to the U.K. With virtually nothing saved in the bank, Lachlan can hardly afford his attorneys, whom he feels aren’t helping him much anyway.
In an attempt to procure cash, Lachlan visits the Cranks’ former manager, Wendell (a well-cast Michael Des Barres), who spurns him, reminding him that it was Lachlan who was responsible for the death of his brother, the band’s gifted lead vocalist-guitarist. In such scenes, Lewy’s script is less attuned to the way rock ‘n’ rollers talk, and more concerned with pressing character and story details in as direct a fashion as possible.
While Carlyle’s Lachlan, charming with his thick brogue and longish sandy locks, conveys the look and demeanor of an aging rocker fallen on hard times, his character is perilously close to a cliche, though Lewy fortunately avoids having Lachlan suddenly turn over a new leaf. Ultimately, though, when confronted by key people from his past on the eve of what appears like certain deportation, Lachlan gets a contrived opportunity at redemption.
Carlyle’s fellow actors, almost always staged in straight dialogue scenes, seem to enjoy sharing screen time with him. But they generally bring very little of their own energy, with the exceptions of Des Barres and Wilhoite, who manage to carve out characters for themselves.
Vid lensing by James Laxton is competent but uninspired, while the twangy guitar-based score is undistinguished. Title song (written by Adam Franklin), played by a reluctant Lachlan to a curious Beau, is meant to be one of the Cranks’ key tunes, but it’s as lackluster as the movie.