In July 1981, four people were viciously murdered in the small Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles on Wonderland Avenue. Soon it became apparent that legendary porn star John Holmes was somehow involved. In the seventies, Holmes and his, uh, large member were extremely prolific in the porn industry, where he, uh, rose to fame. By this point in time, Holmes was addicted to drugs and pretty much an all-around loser. Wonderland chronicles the murders from different perspectives a la Rashomon. What is interesting is that two different people can have equally plausible takes on what happened, and by the end of the film, it is still unclear what exactly happened.

Each retelling does not necessarily present new information about the crime, but it does give what feels like a wholly different take on what happened. Nevertheless, by the end of the film is a letdown. Just when it feels like it is beginning to go somewhere, Wonderland ends abruptly. It almost feels like somebody turned the projector off. Director James Cox (Highway, The Rock Star) seems so wrapped up in trying to present differing views, that he forgot to come up with something to tie the whole film together. One can argue that since few people know what actually happened, it would be wrong to come to a definitive conclusion, but it still doesn't change the fact that the film feels oddly empty. Cox, who co-wrote the screenplay with Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz, and D. Loriston Scott also fail to delve adequately into their characters.

The primary thing that saves the film is the acting, which is superb. Headlined by Val Kilmer (Masked and Anonymous, The Salton Sea) as Holmes, the cast does a good job of sinking into their characters, and many of the actors take roles that are vastly different than what they typically do. Kilmer is so far gone that it is pathetic. He is at the mercy of Ron Launius (Josh Lucas, Secondhand Lions, Hulk) for friendship and drugs, and wanders around town with his underage girlfriend Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth, The Rules of Attraction, Blue Crush). It's a fearless performance by Kilmer, who has his character lose all sense of dignity. Holmes is a broken, whiny man who seems like he would do anything for money or drugs. This makes Lisa Kudrow (Marci X, Analyze That) a great foil for Kilmer. Kudrow is Sharon Holmes, John's estranged wife, who also has a close relationship with Dawn. Sharon still cares for Holmes, but treats him with tough love. She knows that he needs to learn from his mistakes if he ever wants to survive, but still he acts like a child. The Sharon Holmes role is deadly serious, and Kudrow spends much of the movie yelling.

Also unrecognizable is Dylan McDermott (Party Monster, Texas Rangers) as David Lind, the primary counteropinion to Holmes. The murders came about after Launius tried to fence some antique guns to Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Igby Goes Down), a rich figure in Los Angeles nightlife. The deal did not materialize as expected, and what is clear is that Holmes left Nash's kitchen door unlocked so that Lind, Launius, and Billy Deverell (an unrecognizable Tim Blake Nelson, Holes, Minority Report) could rob Nash. Later, the Launius, Deverell, and two women were found dead in Deverell's apartment, and Lind believed that Holmes was responsible. Holmes claims that he was not a willing participant, but more of a patsy. It's great watching Kilmer, Kudrow, McDermott, and Bosworth sink further and further into darkness, but nothing ever quite comes together thematically.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated R for strong violence/grisly images, pervasive drug use and language, and some sexuality/nudity.

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