Wonderland (tbc)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/10/2003

Two out of Five stars

Running time: 105 mins

Well-acted but ultimately disappointing and frequently dull drama that doesn’t do justice to its subject matter.

James Cox’s Wonderland is based on the true story of the infamous ‘Wonderland Murders’ that took place on Wonderland Avenue in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, in 1981.

Initially the case was ascribed to strung-out drug dealers and low-lifes but it gained notoriety when it emerged that ex-porn legend John Holmes was connected to the crime. The resulting movie, however, is something of a disappointment, opting for a ‘which version of events is the truth’, Rashomon-style thriller instead of concentrating on Holmes himself.

Porn King Takes Unfamiliar Type Of Beating

Val Kilmer plays ‘Porn King’ John Holmes, the well-endowed star of the ‘Johnny Wadd’ porn movies amongst countless others. As the film opens, however, he’s already washed up and down on his luck, thanks to a huge drug habit. He makes the mistake of bragging to his dopehead friends (Josh Lucas, Dylan McDermott and Tim Blake Nelson) that local gangster Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian) has boat-loads of cash and drugs lying around.

After Holmes’ dopehead friends rob Nash, Nash has the information beaten out of Holmes and then may or may not have sent him along to Wonderland Avenue with his bodyguards to exact his revenge…

The film is told in a confusing mish-mash of flashbacks and stories, resulting from the police testimony of first David Lind (McDermott) and then Holmes himself.

There are also flashbacks within flashbacks and the movie also details Holmes’ complex three-way relationship with the two women in his life: his ex-wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow, the best thing in the film) and his besotted 15 year old girlfriend Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth from Blue Crush), both of whom, bizarrely, remain friends to this day. (One of the best scenes involves Holmes telling the incredulous cops that he wants to go into the Witness Protection Programme with BOTH women).

Only Scratches The Surface

The main problem with the film is that it never really digs deep enough into any of its stories – we learn next to nothing about Holmes himself, other than that he’s a messed-up addict who used to be a star, of sorts. If his story seems familiar, it’s because it also inspired the far superior Boogie Nights, which significantly alters the details but spins a much more engaging tale with a good deal more style. It’s possible that Wonderland is as vague as it is so as to avoid lawsuits (Nash was eventually acquitted).

That said, Kilmer gives a good performance, from which we subtly infer that the real Holmes was a somewhat naïve, needy character. Bosworth and Kudrow are both excellent, as is Josh Lucas as bullying dopehead Ron Launius. There’s also a great cameo by Carrie Fisher as a Nun who tries to ‘save’ Dawn.

However, the film completely wastes both Janeane Garofalo and Christina Applegate, both of whom are given prominence in the credits – either they appeared as a favour to the director or their parts were significantly cut down as Garofalo appears in only one scene (and doesn’t speak) and Applegate is practically unrecogniseable.

In short, Wonderland is a disappointing true-crime drama that reveals little about its subject and doesn’t do anything that Boogie Nights didn’t do ten times better.

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Content updated: 18/10/2017 23:06

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