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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: WOnderland

Starring: Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth
Director: James Cox
Rated: R
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Lisa Kudrow, Christina Applegate, Joshua Lucas, Tim Blake Nelson, Eric Bogosian, Michelle Borth, Carl Ciarfalio, Chris Ellis, Carrie Fisher, Ted Levine, Dylan McDermott, Janeane Garofalo

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Sometimes a movie turns out to be not at all what you expected. That was certainly the case for me when I saw WONDERLAND. Based on a true story about legendary porn star John Holmes (Val Kilmer) -- whose chief claim to fame was his fourteen-inch member -- the movie starts off like a tale of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. There is some sex, a ton of hard drugs and lots of great tunes from 1981 when the story is set, but what makes the film special is none of the above. What makes WONDERLAND so amazingly riveting is that it is a crime drama and whodunit that is pure edge-of-your-seat material. It is a gripping and engrossing tale about a murder scene that was described by the TV news reports of the time as being "as brutal as the Sharon Tate killings."

Director James Cox, who proves a brilliant and mesmerizing storyteller, is blessed with a wonderful cast, whom he uses to maximum effect. Kate Bosworth (BLUE CRUSH) plays Dawn Schiller, John's druggie girlfriend, Lisa Kudrow has a small part as his estranged wife, a nearly unrecognizable Dylan McDermott plays David Lind, a grungy biker and cokehead, Josh Lucas (SWEET HOME ALABAMA) is Ronnie Launius, John's deranged drug dealer and partner in crime, and Eric Bogosian plays Eddie Nash, the "biggest gangster in L.A." The rest of the cast includes Franky G, Tim Blake Nelson, Carrie Fisher, Ted Levine, M.C. Gainey, Faizon Love, Christina Applegate, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Janeane Garofalo.

The story is told in RASHOMON-like fashion with varying descriptions coming from the participants in the events. Set at a time when Holmes's career was basically over -- after having made over 1,000 porn flicks, or so the legend has it -- and he is living a life on the edge, stoked by constant hard drug use. He convinces Ronnie and a rag-tag collection of Ronnie's friends to rob Eddie. Attacking the biggest criminal in town proves hazardous to their health. For their $1.2M take, Ronnie and his guests get slaughtered in their apartment on Wonderland Ave. What exact part Holmes played in the robbery and subsequent revenge murders is the center of the absorbing mystery, which is told with the exhilarating energy of a runaway freight train.

Equal measures frightening and fascinating, the movie grips you until the very end, without a single slack moment. It's storytelling at its best, no matter whose version of the truth you choose to believe. Actually, almost all of the characters were such scum bags that it doesn't really matter anyway. But, whoa, what a movie! It is so hyper that it'll probably leave you jumpy.

WONDERLAND runs 1:49. It is rated R for "strong violence/grisly images, pervasive drug use and language, some sexuality/nudity" and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

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