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Wonderland
2003 - R - 104 Mins.
Director: James Cox
Producer: Holly Wiersma
Written By: James Cox et al
Starring: Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Lisa Kudrow, Christina Applegate, Josh Lucas, Dylan McDermott
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   

hey, I used to be Batman!
First of all, let's make this perfectly clear right off the bat. There is no prosthetic penis in WONDERLAND, the new drama based on porn star John C. Holmes' involvement in the 1981 murders.

This gritty and hyper-edited drama, directed by James Cox (who directed the overlooked 2001 movie HIGHWAY - which starred Jared Leto and current 'it boy', Jake Gyllenhaal), will no doubt be compared to BOOGEY NIGHTS, the sentimental 1997 movie starring Mark Wahlberg that was also loosely based on the Wonderland murders and the life of John Holmes. If you're looking for lurid porn connections, WONDERLAND ain't it. Instead, it's an enticing whodunit that asks the audience to choose between different confessions to a crime from decidedly sleazy people.

By 1981, John Holmes (Val Kilmer), infamous for a 14" member, had finished with his porn career and was hanging around Hollywood as a drug addict and party joke. After he helps a local drug dealer, Ron Launius (played with gusto by Josh Lucas), rob a major Hollywood drug kingpin, Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), Holmes helps Nash retaliate. Nash and his gang brutally beat to death four people at Launius' home on Wonderland in Laurel Canyon.

How John Holmes was involved in the murders is a matter of speculation and this movie enjoys throwing out some delicious details in the form of two very different testimonies. Did Holmes simply set up Launius? Or did he participate in the killings? Was Holmes an innocent bystander or was he a humiliated former celebrity looking for payback?

It's an interesting story well-crafted by James Cox who also seems pleased to have put together an all-star cast who ends up being unrecognizable. Val Kilmer is looking very Neanderthal as Holmes, with longish curly hair, beard and bad teeth. Kate Bosworth plays Holmes' girlfriend. Dylan McDermott plays a ruthless killer. Lisa Kudrow is Holmes' first wife. Who else - Christina Applegate? Janeane Garofalo? Completely unrecognizable. Only Carrie Fisher and Josh Lucas look like themselves.

Fisher has a funny cameo as a religious do-gooder rescuing the homeless off the streets of Hollywood while Lucas goes to town as a frenzied small-time thug. It's a rude change from his aw-shucks Southern boy persona widely seen in SWEET HOME ALABAMA or THE HULK.

WONDERLAND is a strong ensemble piece - Kilmer as Holmes gets to play numerous variations on his character - from the proud porn legend he thinks himself as; to the faded has-been lowlife leech other see him. Since each witness has their own point of view on Holmes and the murders, WONDERLAND ends up reminding the audience that the truth is in the eye of the beholder.

WONDERLAND also plays a lot with editing - the first third of the movie splits into multiple windows like the WOODSTOCK documentary and uses a pervasive soundtrack for nostalgia. Every witness has a flashback sequence that can get kind of confusing. Unlike BOOGEY NIGHTS, WONDERLAND doesn't play the 1970's porn star in soft glowing lights. While BOOGEY NIGHTS lovingly glossed over the porn industry as a big happy if disfunctional family, WONDERLAND is a much more satisfying look at the downward spiral of a fallen porn star.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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