But all of this misses the point. Kona Coast is high art, masquerading as trash.
In the opening sequence, we are treated to a sweeping panorama of the Pacific ocean as viewed from the boat of Captain Sam Moran (Richard Boone) -- the ship's wheel unattended until his bare foot lolls across it, steering in the most laissez-faire manner, as he reclines with a vintage bottle of Primo beer in his hand, laughing into the wind.
This scene is genius. So much is conveyed about the man: carefree, a wild and untamed soul, a free thinker and lover of life.
Each scene unfolds with a brutal frankness, abruptly, without logic or explanation -- so much like life itself. The rawness of this unpolished gem may appear to the naive viewer evidence of schlock; to the discerning student of film, this gut-wrenching directness, making the viewer uncomfortable, even disoriented, is the masterful work of a Fellini, or perhaps more accurately, an Ingmar Berman. The intensity of feeling is conveyed on a level too visceral to be transmitted on any rational basis.
Likewise, the use of minimal orchestration, a "1960's detective show" sound track punctuated by riveting bongo breaks during action sequences, keeps the viewer's mind distracted, so the viewer's raw psychic underbelly is left fully exposed to the powerful psychic impact of this confusing and at times disturbing masterwork.
Consider the complicated love triangle between Moran, Melissa Hyde (Miles), and the young girl infatuated with Moran, who eventually evolves into a surrogate for his slain daughter, but not until an uncomfortable Electra complex is played out between her and Moran. The tension -- sexual energy -- is palpable. In the scenes between Miles and Boone, watch closely for hinted-at but never shown sexual intensity.
The subtext to the film's surreality is of course Boone's long descent into alcoholism, which had all but claimed him by the time Kona Coast was made. Boone was a regular fixture in Kona in the 1960's; his swollen eyes, paunchy, scarred face, and whiskey baritone were for real. This gives the character of Moran a poignant realism. The viewer can not escape his hopeless, boozy ennui.
Vera Miles' Melissa also evokes a deep reaction: here at the height of her womanly allure, she is no ingenue, but a worldly woman constantly aware of the inescapable encroachment of old age and loneliness.
Also worthy of note is actor Steve Ihnat, who portrays the villainous drug lord, Kryder. Ihnat is given little to work with in Kona Coast, but he makes the most of it with an edge of demonic insanity that makes the viewer squirm. Devotees of the 1960's Star Trek series will find themselves waiting for him to scream, "LORD Garth!"
The action sequences are jarring, precipitous, irrational -- so much like the violence of life itself, absurd and exhilarating.
Most of all, this is an existential story. Sam Moran is a man confronted with the most terrible of losses: the death of his daughter, soon followed by the death of his best friend. His way of life and everything he believes in are suddenly in question. Every time he proclaims, "I'm Sam Moran. Who the hell are you?" -- (I lost count) -- he boldly reasserts his identity in the face of nothingness. Moran is the quintessential man of the 1960's: strong, independent, and absolutely free of doubt. He is a champion in man's struggle against nihilism.
Had this film been made in French or Swedish, it would have been heralded and remembered as a masterpiece. It is literally so bad that it is good. One might predict that with the advent of DVD and greater accessibility to the masses, Kona Coast will enjoy a renaissance, perhaps even achieving cult film status. Kona Coast is an unappreciated work of modern art.