The summer of love gives way to a wasted wonderland in this moody biopic/film noir thriller. Val Kilmer stars as legendary porn stud John C Holmes, the man whose gift lay in his boxer shorts. Don't go looking for Boogie Nights in this vision of the seamy side of Los Angeles, though. Focusing on the 1981 'Wonderland Murders' in which Holmes was implicated, this isn't an exposé of the porn industry but a dramatic reconstruction of one of America's most brutal gangland slayings.
By the early 80s, Holmes had crashed and burned out of the world of hardcore pornography. Washed up, strung out, and chasing the white lines to financial ruin, Kilmer plays him as a low-life loser ready to do anything for a quick buck. Hanging out with a band of sleazy drug dealers (including Josh Lucas and Christina Applegate), Holmes sets up Palestinian gangster Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian) for a smash-and-grab robbery.
Or does he? Taking Akira Kurosawa's truth-twisting Rashomon as its inspiration, Wonderland presents wildly differing views of the events of that fateful night and leaves it to us to decide who we want to believe. Was Holmes just a poor stooge threatened into setting up Nash? Or was he the mastermind behind the whole scam and a willing participant in the murders?
"BRILLIANTLY UNSELFCONSCIOUS PERFORMANCE"
While Kilmer delivers a savage and brilliantly unselfconscious performance of the long dead porn star, the rest of Cox's movie fails to fire the imagination in quite the same way. Using crime scene photos, newspaper headlines, and lots of meticulous research to buff up its aura of historical authenticity, it's an ambitious piece of filmmaking which amounts to very little. Struggling to impress us with his visual pyrotechnics (anyone for split screen?), Cox forgets the most important thing: who are these nasty, venal people and why should we care about them?
"Miles of dick and no balls," is how one of Holmes' associates describes the over-endowed celebrity loser. Funnily enough, it's also the perfect description of Cox's strutting filmmaking.