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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Porn Free
by David Haviland

In 1981 four people were murdered at a drug dealer’s house on Wonderland Avenue, Los Angeles. The LAPD described it as the bloodiest crime scene since the Manson killings, but the case was notorious for another reason: the mystery surrounding the involvement of John Holmes, also known as Johnny Wadd, who had been one of the world’s biggest porn stars until cocaine addiction took hold.

James Cox’s Wonderland, in the style of Rashomon, presents conflicting versions of these events as narrated by a number of characters. We learn that the murders were almost certainly committed by Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), a local nightclub owner, who had recently been robbed by the Wonderland drug dealers. The question concerns what role Holmes (Val Kilmer) played, both in setting up Nash for the robbery, and the murders themselves.

Refreshingly, the film makes no attempt to glamourise the tedium and selfishness of drug addiction. Kilmer’s Holmes is pathetic and childlike; a man whose life is solely dedicated to scoring his next hit. Kilmer gives a typically mannered performance, but Holmes’ charm and humanity are reflected in two fine supporting turns from Lisa Kudrow as his wife; the moral centre of the film; and Kate Bosworth as his girlfriend.

Director James Cox employs a range of tricks to turn in an undeniably stylish feature, but the fractured narrative and grainy desaturation feel like genre staples, and as a result the film is directionless. This lack of purpose is evident in the screenplay, which delights in showing us the same scenes of drug-use and horrendous violence from numerous angles, while simultaneously inviting us to condemn them. We see the human side of the female characters only, so Holmes remains curiously blank, despite the fact that this is clearly a film about him.

Wonderland owes an obvious debt to Goodfellas, both in its style and subject matter, but where that film excelled in seeking out the goodness and morality of even the shadiest characters, Wonderland simply divides its world into good and bad, and as a result we have little interest in the outcome. James Cox displays real visual flair, but would do better to apply it to characters he cares about.

(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for strong violence'grisly images, pervasive drug use, language and some sexuality/nudity.)

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