Wonderland
Starring:
Kate Bosworth, Val Kilmer, Dylan McDermott, Lisa Kudrow
Directed By :
James Cox
Grade
B+

Synopsis: Wonderland chronicles the downfall of John Holmes (Kilmer), one of the biggest stars in the porn industry. July 1, 1981: LAPD respond to a distress call at 8763 Wonderland Avenue and discover an especially brutal multiple-murder scene. Investigation reveals that both John Holmes and Eddie Nash (an extremely high-rolling nightclub owner, played by Eric Bogosian) may be tied to the murders. Holmes himself is on the run, in and out of motels and staying with friends, wheeling and dealing everything he can. Eventually he comes to the police, offering to tell them about the people involved in the murders in exchange for immunity and protection. But the police already have another witness in David Lind (McDermott), the boyfriend of one of the murder victims. What follows is a story told from two different perspectives about a scheme involving drugs, money, and power, and the police trying to decide who to believe.

Who Will This Appeal To?: Fans of Val Kilmer, who makes his comeback in this smaller, less seen movie after nearly ten years of semi-retirement and movie misfires. Also, fans of mysteries, dramas, indie-flicks, real life based movies, and just great character acting.

Evaluation: You know, I read the reviews for this before I saw it, and something it got accused of doing was showing a lot of debauchery and not having anything to say about it. Like that was a bad thing. Bad I actually really enjoyed that. This isn't like some action movies where it glorifies violence, and then again it doesn't try and associate some moral lesson with all the drugs or sex you see. This film just shows the characters realistically, and doesn't take sides. And that carries through to the narrative of the film also. You've got the police with two equally convincing witnesses, trying to figure out who's telling the truth. Not to say that either one is wholly convincing, as they both paint themselves in a little too saintly of a light, but the cops try to piece together what might've really happened based on all the info they're getting. And everyone has their own take on things, and you see it from everybody's perspective.

Another thing the critics are talking about is the relationship between Holmes' jailbait girlfriend Dawn (Bosworth) and his estranged wife Sharon (Kudrow) whom he left when he went into porn. This really is a strange and touching thing to behold, as the story is often told from Dawn's p.o.v. and you have the most sympathy for her out of all the jacked up personalities in this story. But really, all the characters are fascinating, because they're so disgustingly, failingly human, and the actors play them all so well. This movie has some of the best ensemble acting in recent memory, particularly Kilmer's portrayal of the weasely Holmes. (As one of the cops in the film states: "A mile of dick, and no balls.")

On the production side of things, Wonderland is told using some of the gritty, fast-motion techniques that have become popular directing tools in recent years for movies attempting to show "real life" stories. And as over-used as that's becoming, it works to great effect here. In addition, the music really captures the feel of the movie, and of that late 70s, early 80s time period, where everything seemed easy going and ...groovy. Some great licensed tracks here.

Final Verdict: Overall, a movie anyone with a tolerance for depictions of sex, drugs, lots of drugs, and violence should enjoy. This movie gets major presentation points; it really sucks you in to the feel of the movie. Great to see Kilmer come back, and great ensemble casting (including Janeane Garofalo, Christina Applegate, Josh Lucas [the jerk from The Hulk], Faizon Love, Carrie Fisher, and many others in small supporting roles.)

It's All in the Details: It occurred to me after watching this that Boogie Nights had to be inspired by John Holmes. There are just way too many similarities. Watch both of these movies and then decide. Or maybe everyone knew that when Boogie Nights came out and I'm the last to realize it. Either way...

- - Jeff Light

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