A fine Scottish character actor is forced to work too hard to bring urgency to the atmospheric but loosely jointed character study California Solo, the sophomore film from director Marshall Lewy (Blue State). Robert Carlyle, the long-haired, craggy star who made a mark across a variety of roles, including Transpotting, The Full Monty and Angela’s Ashes, plays Lachlan, a fortysomething former punk rocker from a nineties Britpop band called the Cranks, who has somehow ended up working on a farm and selling produce at a farmer’s market outside Los Angeles.
At night, Lachlan retires to his cottage, gets drunk and does a podcast called Flameouts, focusing on famous rock ’n’ roll deaths. Other nights, he goes to a bar. On weekends, he takes his boss’s truck and mans a stand at the farmers’ market. All this changes when he gets stopped drunk driving and an old arrest for marijuana possession surfaces, from the days when he was travelling with his band. Lachlan, a green-card worker, is at risk of being deported unless he can come up with several thousand dollars.
Most of the film consists of Lachlan’s attempts to hold off deportation, between drinking bouts and a go-nowhere romantic subplot involving a younger customer (Alexia Rasmussen). We soon learn about the guilt from which Lachlan’s been running, as well as an abandoned family living in the city nearby. In desperation, Lachlan contacts his distrustful former wife (Kathleen Wilhoite) and sympathetic teen-aged daughter (Savannah Lathem), whom he hasn’t seen in a decade, in the hopes they can make the case that he’s essential to their lives.
Lewy’s script doesn’t cop out with any sentimental redemption, but neither does it establish why the self-destructive Lachlan deserves our sympathy. Most of the American actors’ performances here have a laid-back, desultory quality that’s as flat as the landscape. It’s as if Lachlan is just too lively to stay in their midst, at least when he’s not weighing himself down with booze.