Published on May 31st, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Summary: The true-ish story of porn legend John Holmes's downfall ironically lacks balls. The film plods along, making for a dull, depressing look at some deplorable characters.
R | 104 min.
Director: James Cox | Screenplay: James Cox, Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz, D. Loriston Scott
Starring: Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott
Studio: Flirt Pictures | Distribution: Lionsgate
Making a true crime picture about an unsolved murder is like painting yourself into a corner, creatively. The screenwriters can’t be too flexible with the fact without pissing people off and risking legal recourse–but if they simply leave the plot unresolved, it leads to a less-than-satisfying film.
Wonderland takes a look at a 1981 quadruple murder in Los Angeles, allegedly involving 1970’s porn legend John Holmes (Val Kilmer). The film doesn’t attempt to prove Holmes’s innocence or guilt, but rather focuses on the events leading up to the brutal homicides on Wonderland Avenue, including the actor’s downfall professionally and personally. A slew of nefarious characters are involved in the plot, including Aryan brotherhood biker David Lind (Dylan McDermott), noted gangster Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), and heroin smuggler Ron Launius (Josh Lucas).
As you can see, the cast is full of notable names–and that’s not even including the female leads, played by Kate Bosworth, Christina Applegate, Carrie Fisher, and Lisa Kudrow, to name a few. The performances in Wonderland aren’t bad but the deplorable characters depicted don’t do the actors any favors. Aside from a few of those women, pretty much every character in this film is just bad news. When you fill a movie with criminals, drug-addict porn stars, and racist gang members–you’re left with nobody to root for and little to connect with. Bosworth’s Dawn Schiller is inserted as the sympathetic lead but given she’s a sixteen-year-old brat who’s dating a nearly 40-year-old adult film star, it’s difficult to feel for her too much.
It’s simply unfair to compare this movie to P.T. Anderson’s incredible Boogie Nights, but since both were inspired by Holmes, I would be remiss not to… Where Anderson’s film succeeds is in telling a deeply emotional story about a tragic figure, which is exactly what Holmes was. In that movie, the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler is played out as a naive kid who was taken advantage of by some selfish people, eventually letting fame get to his head as he turns on his surrogate family–in Wonderland, we only get the third act of that story. Director James Cox takes a complicated story and only tells us the tragic outcome, while forgoing most of the high times that preceded this downfall. The audience is left with a soul-sucking picture of what could have been a great character in Holmes.
This film is just so ham-fisted in its depictions of the true story’s figures. Unless you’re dealing with a children’s film or a straightforward action exercise, it’s rarely a good thing to have blatant good & bad guys in a plot. In Wonderland, the innocents are very much removed from their criminal counterparts, making for a dull and predictable set of characters. For a movie about Johnny Wadd, this picture sure doesn’t have much in the way of balls. Kilmer is rather boring in his portrayal of Holmes, mostly acting like a vacant burnout for the entire film. Once again, this would be similar to if you skipped the first two-hours of Boogie Nights and only watched the scenes where Diggler was a coked-out egomaniac. Easily the best performance of this movie belongs to Eric Bogosian, who continues to be one of the most underused actors in Hollywood.
If you want to see an effective film about a famous unsolved murder, watch David Fincher’s Zodiac–and if you want to see a flick about the depressing world of 70’s adult cinema, see Boogie Nights. Wonderland is one that could be left in a brown paper bag behind the counter.