Wonderland Movie Review
Val Kilmer has not had much luck in recent years. Ever since Red Planet fizzled on screen, he has been put on the back burner. Since that disappointing sci-fi film, he has leaned toward more intelligent films. He delivered a stunning performance in The Salton Sea, but how many of you have heard of that one? His latest 2004 movie, Spartan, received generally good reviews but the studio refused to market it - it was gone in a matter of weeks. Then there's Wonderland - and you say, what the hell is that?
Kilmer turns in yet another dazzling performance as real-life porn star John Holmes, a man who is past his prime and who has fallen into the world of drugs and crime. Troubled to the bone, he is torn between trying to be the man that he wants to be and the man that he is. Kilmer, though forced to share the screen with a lot of other players, exudes excellence in every scene that he appears in.
The plot of the story is set around the events that took place on July 1, 1981, when police discovered an absolutely gruesome quadruple homicide at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon. As the detectives began investigating, they uncovered a seedy world of crime that involved an ex-con (Dylan McDermott), a rich nightclub owner (Eric Bogosian) and Mr. Holmes. As the police received conflicting reports of what truly happened, it became clear that the only person who could straighten everything out was Holmes, but he might be the one that is responsible for it all in the first place...
Wonderland is a visually beautiful film that uses a lot of the tricks in the book effectively to make the story a fast and intriguing tale of gray truths and unclear protagonists. Director James Cox does an excellent job of turning the screenplay into a multi-view retelling of events, doing a very proficient job of showing the investigation unfold as if it were happening in the minds of the detectives, yet at the same time delving deeper into some of the characters. The result is a rich and moderately powerful drama-thriller that employs some good actors, great editing and an intriguing story.
At the same time, Wonderland does lag in a few parts, and does suffer from a lack of any clear protagonists. The detectives are given the back seat to the more interesting underworld characters, which, in the end, is the right choice, but at the same time means that there is no one to root for. Still, Kilmer, though his character is potentially guilty of a violent murder, does a great job of making us hope that he will overcome his shortcomings and prevail.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the relationship between Holmes and his estranged wife (Lisa Kudrow). Kudrow delivers one of her stronger performances here as a woman who clearly still loves her husband despite the fact that he has run off with a much younger girl (Kate Bosworth). As the murders come to light, it ultimately comes down to Kudrow's character to make a moral and logical decision. It would have been nice to see a little more interaction between them to understand the complexity of their relationship.
Wonderland is not a movie for everyone, but Cox has effectively made a movie that is both a mystery and a character drama. It is not flawless by any means, but Kilmer makes it worth it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.