Hollywood Buddha (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Writer-Director-Producer-Star Philippe Caland wrote the story, and received a producer’s credit, for  Boxing Helena (1993), the infamous film that resulted on the horrible judgement against Kim Basinger (which was mostly caused by a morally corrupt judicial process, and which was ultimately reversed). Subsequently he produced a film entitled Dead Girl (1994) that starred Val Kilmer but never sold because, according to Caland, “the town resisted it.”

This film became notorious in the Buddhist community because the original poster for it showed Caland sitting atop a head of Buddha. Apparently this is sacreligious to Buddhists because there was an immediate furor, with the film’s website getting more than 3 million hits, more than any other film in a similar time frame. When I walked into the small screening room in Beverly Hills, half the seats were taken by Buddhist monks, there to give the film the once over. Before the screening the film’s publicist issued a public apology to all Buddhists present, promising that the poster was in the process of being changed and stating that nobody connected with the film had any idea that the poster would be offensive.

Hollywood Buddha is a semi-autobiographical tale of a writer-producer named Philippe (Caland) who is deeply in debt as he’s building a house and living in a tent in the back yard while he’s trying to sell a film entitled Dead Girl which is about a man who is carrying around the body of a dead girl.

With creditors hounding him, everything goes wrong for him until he meets Jim (Jim Stewart) who looks like a Buddhist monk. For $2,000 a month Jim rents him a statue of Buddha to put in his backyard and gives him a mantra to say. Immediately his luck changes.

While this might seem pretty superficial and contrived, Caland is a good looking guy with sex appeal (he spends a lot of the time shirtless) and a terrific smile. As the Buddhist philosophy changes his karma, things seem to fall in place.

The weakest part of the film is Jim who says his lines as if he’s reading them. Next is the contrivance of having Philippe’s next door neighbor, Betsy (Betsy Clark, Caland’s wife in real life) leave her little girl with him after they had only one vexatious meeting. Never in a million years would a young mother leave her young daughter with someone like Philippe with whom she had just had a fight.

Another bothersome point for anyone who knows Los Angeles is a scene where Philippe runs into someone saying a mantra while he’s jogging in what looks like the hills overlooking Chatsworth, where they used to shoot The Lone Ranger, or Bronson Canyon in Hollywood. But these hills overlook Will Rogers beach in Santa Monica. If you’re watching this in des Moines, you probably wouldn’t think twice. But when you know Los Angeles, the incongruity of locations yells out at you.

This is the quintessential indie (a real family affair, in addition to Philippe’s  wife being played by Caland’s real wife, Philippe’s mother is played by Caland’s mother). I enjoyed it because I thought Caland did a good job of acting and that he exhibited a certain amount of charisma. It’s only 88 minutes long and that’s a plus.

September 16, 2004

The End