Film Reviews


By • Oct 24th, 2003 •

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Lions Gate Films
Running time — 104 minutes / MPAA rating: R

It is fascinating that female porn performers are now “stars” and lauded in the media. (With pubescent sex symbols the new coin of the realm, I’m waiting for the next big wave – dead people – to be exploited as sexy.) There are no men in sight manipulating female “porn stars.” The women are portrayed as smart entrepreneurs and highly valued C.E.O.’s (without a Board of Directors or stockholders) answering only to themselves! The E! True Hollywood Story on Jenna Jamison knelt at her feet. You would have thought Jamison cured cancer.

There are only two male performers with recognizable names: The deceased John Holmes and Ron Jeremy (The November 2003 Playboy profile on Jeremy is a cruel, luxurious hoot! And, since I’m commenting on a segment of my monthly reading material: Daryl Hannah, you are right. Your Playboy photos are terrible. You look ridiculous.)

WONDERLAND is not about John Holmes’s (Val Kilmer) porn career. Holmes made 2,274 hardcore films and, by his own account, slept with 14,000 women. By 1981, Holmes was out of porn and making his living dealing drugs. WONDERLAND opens with Holmes as a full-blown drug addict separated from his wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow) and living with a teenager, Dawn (Kate Bosworth). Owing his dealers money, he tells them that racketeer Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), owner of the Seven Seas nightclub in Hollywood, has drugs, jewels and cash in his house safe. He offers to leave Nash’s patio door unlocked so they can rob him.

Led by Ron Launius (Josh Lucas) they steal $1 million in loot but give Holmes a few thousand dollars. Nash finds out about Holmes’s involvement and sends contract killers to Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon. Four people are savagely murdered; a fifth, Launius’s estranged wife, survives with head injuries and no memory of the attack.

A biker, David Lind (Dylan McDermott), implicates Holmes. Lind has one version; Holmes told the police he merely led the killers in and then watched. Or did he participate?

Kilmer’s Holmes is a curly-headed mess with a boyish flakiness and happy-go-lucky attitude. It takes awhile before the coke-fueled lifestyle we are witnessing slows down long enough for the slew of disreputable characters to emerge. We never get to know Holmes or why he has women in his life. These lives are frenetic and coked-up. These people do not sit around and discuss options. The melee is not softened up for the camera but Holmes is. There is a charm that director James Cox (who takes screenwriting credit along with Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz and D. Loriston Scott) allows to surface.

Why do I have a nagging feeling that Holmes wasn’t a loveable guy?*

WONDERLAND is a well-constructed, observant exploration into as world privy to only a few. While not the exorbitant speeded-up overkill that was the impressive SPUN, WONDERLAND is a devastating insider’s glimpse into the seedy, warped world of drugs. And we do find out what happened that night.

Postscript: John Holmes went on trial in December 1981 and was acquitted. He died from AIDS in 1988. In all likelihood, it was not a pretty or sexy end to a life of extreme hedonistic excess.

* Editor’s note: I didn’t know the guy, either, Victoria, but I did know people who did. Your suspicion tallies with what I’ve heard. However, from those I’ve spoken with, he was more serious and intelligent then depicted.

Director: James Cox
Producers: Holly Wiersma, Michael Paseornek
Executive producers: Tom Ortenberg, Peter Block, Marc Butan, Michael Burns, Julie Yorn, Peter Kleidman, Randall Emmett, George Furla
Screenwriters: James Cox, Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz, D. Loriston Scott
Director of photography: Michael Grady
Production designer: Franco-Giacomo Carbone
Editor: Jeff McEvoy
Costume designer: Maryam Malakour
Music: Cliff Martinez

John Holmes: Val Kilmer
Sharon Holmes: Lisa Kudrow
Dawn Schiller: Kate Bosworth
David Lind: Dylan McDermott
Eddie Nash: Eric Bogosian
Ron Launius: Josh Lucas
Louis Cruz: Franky G.
Bill Ward: M.C. Gainey
Sam Nico: Ted Levine
Greg Diles: Faizon Love
Billy Deverell: Tim Blake Nelson

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