Edge

film review: WONDERLAND * * 1/2

It’s obvious that something has gone horribly wrong when Lisa Kudrow and Janeane Garofalo show up in a gritty crime thriller about the life of a drug addicted porn star. The film is Wonderland, and this odd miscasting is not the only problem encountered while depicting a dire period in the life of former porn king John Holmes.

There’s little difficulty in finding drama in the story of Holmes, the larger-than-you icon of sex in the ’70s, yet Wonderland screws up. It ignores his early fame and instead snips directly into the early ’80s – a time when he was strung-out and connected with one of the most horrific multiple murders of the decade.

Before the homicides, John Holmes was a popular figure in the trashy L.A. underground, but sooner-than-later he was reduced to scoring drugs off small-time criminals and striking up a friendship with one of the biggest gangsters in the city. Caught in an awesome downward spiral, perhaps addicted to it, his reality touched down in the middle of a brutal quadruple homicide, one that connected him with both the victims and the potential killers.

Val Kilmer is Holmes, of course, who joins an almost comically diverse cast that includes Kudrow, Garofalo, Kate Bosworth, Carrie Fisher, and (how is she getting roles, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?) Christina Applegate. Overall, the awkward cast doesn’t hinder what appears on screen, but such talent simply doesn’t surpass the inner detours of Wonderland.

A notoriously gifted actor, Kilmer probably jumped at the chance to play this conflicted and dark role, yet he’s entirely wasted here on a script too flimsy to produce enough real, kinetic drama. There’s plenty of fake drama, sure – broken windows, police interrogations, requisite fast-paced drug scenes, and piles of weapons and cash – but – after practucally everyone’s seen the hyper world of Boogie Nights – what Wonderland lacks is a heart.

Stylistically, the film is impressive, but rookie director James Cox (Highway) takes nearly every idea one step too far. The ’70s rock soundtrack is very cool and how can it not be? But the pulsating original score is lethargic, and in several scenes the music actually overshadows the dialogue, which is a statement in itself as to where Cox’s priorities are – style over substance and then some.

Shaky camerawork and split screens are reminiscent of recent drug films like Blow, and while never as “hip-ly” excessive as in Spun, they fail in what must be the ultimate goal of everyone involved in such an in-circle production – to match up with Requiem for a Dream. More annoying clich

October 21, 2003

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