The 80s - unplugged. The murders - unveiled. The legend - unzipped.
Tim Blake Nelson
Running Time: 104 minutes
UK Certificate: 18
Country: Canada, United States
Early one summer's morning in 1981, at a house on Wonderland Avenue in the Los Angeles suburb of Laurel Canyon, four people were bludgeoned to death with lead pipes, while a fifth survived with critical head injuries and a memory only of “shadows”. The sheer brutality of the slayings, the alleged involvement of both feared crimelord Eddie Nash and seventies pornstar John Holmes, and a subsequent trial which raised far more questions than it ever resolved, have made the events at Wonderland Avenue a Californian cause celebre on a par with the Manson killings, inspiring fascination and revulsion in equal measure. With its lurid mix of sex, drugs and violence, this was a story crying out to be turned into a movie, and the decisive addition of rock and roll to its soundtrack gives James Cox's 'Wonderland' pretty much everything a Hollywood film needs.
What stops 'Wonderland' from being straight-to-video true-crime trash is the way in which Cox (with his co-writers Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz and D. Loriston Scott) has structured the film as a 'Rashomon'-style jigsaw puzzle of conflicting narratives, all filtered through a distorted looking-glass of animal fear, cunning self-interest and drug-addled narcosis. By focussing on the character of John Holmes, the prodigious porn stud whose career had been ruined by drug addiction (and who would later die of AIDS), 'Wonderland' positions itself as the real-life sequel to the fictional pornucopia of 'Boogie Nights', and invites the viewer to reconstruct not only a confused tale of robbery, ratting and revenge, but also the death throes of the 1970s themselves, whose free-loving psychedelic idealism had rapidly given way to the greedy coke-fuelled narcissism of the eighties. Holmes, a whining parasite who at one point pimps out his own underage girlfriend Dawn Schiller (Kate Bos worth) to Nash (Eric Bogosian), is a difficult figure to like, but Val Kilmer, giving his best performance in years, plays him with a desperate charm that allows the film to remain engaging even at its seediest moments.
Filmed with a hard cocaine-aping edge, all jumpy cuts and blurred hyperreality, 'Wonderland' is a disorienting trip down the least attractive by-ways of the human soul. The narrative veers this way and that, before finally settling upon its own conclusive version of what part Holmes played in the events at Wonderland. Yet even this, based in large part on the accounts given by Dawn Schiller and Holmes' estranged wife Sharon (played in the film by Lisa Kudrow) – who both acted as consultants on 'Wonderland' – is itself as tendentious and questionable as the other scenarios painted by the film, leaving viewers with only a map of delusions and half-lies by which to navigate their way through the film. Holmes and Schiller are apparently following a similar map when they drive off into the sunset at the film's end, boldly reinvigorating one of Hollywood's oldest clichés of future hope with a new blank cynicism.
It's Got: Camerawork so dizzying and blurred that you can barely recognise half the cast, lots of eighties nostalgia (if thats the word), and a shamelessly postmodern scene in which Paris Hilton cameos as a pornstars escort named Barbie (to the accompaniment of Girls on Film on the soundtrack).
It Needs: To stay off the coke.
A 1980s-set true-crime murder mystery whose devious flashbacks and multiple perspectives make you feel like you've snorted too much coke – or been whacked once too often with a lead pipe.