The Austin Chronicle


Rated R, 104 min. Directed by James Cox. Starring Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, Josh Lucas, Franky G, Tim Blake Nelson, Eric Bogosian, Ted Levine, Natasha Gregson Wagner.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 24, 2003

Possibly one of the dullest takes on a real-life murder mystery, this gutter’s-eye-view of the waning days of Los Angeles porn king John "Johnny Wadd" Holmes is barely as interesting as one of the big man’s films, and a lot less revelatory. Set in 1981, after Holmes (Kilmer) had more or less exited the business and taken to sharing a succession of various seedy flats with longtime girlfriend Dawn Schiller (Bosworth), it’s less a whodunit than a who cares? The facts, ma’am: On July 1, 1981, four people of dubious honor were bludgeoned to death in an apartment on 8763 Wonderland Ave. The dead included drug dealers Ron Launius (Lucas), Susan Launius (Christina Applegate), and buddies Billy Deverell (Nelson) and Barbara Richardson (Wagner). The instruments of murder were lead pipes, or possibly baseball bats, and the only surviving member of the ongoing party was a shaky Hell’s Angel by the name of David Lind (McDermott), who is promptly picked up by the LAPD and puts the heat on Holmes, who, by that point in his career, was far more interested in getting a snootful of blow than he was in getting blown. The mighty have fallen all over the place in Cox’s film, but it’s his period re-creation of the slapdash, rotten magic of West Hollywood in the early years of the Reagan administration that holds the film together. That’s not helped by his penchant for psycho-editing, replete with stuttering film, washed-out or oversaturated stock, and a soundtrack that feels like Scorsese’s GoodFellas after its been up all night partying at 10050 Cielo Dr. None of the low-level hoods in Wonderland are as remotely interesting at that director’s crime ring; they’re so out of it half the time that their entire existence seems like some long, strung-out daydream, with the occasional foray into the fridge for another beer. As Lind tells an LAPD detective played by Ted Levine (and will it always feel so strange to see him on the other side of the docket even 10 years after his turn as The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill? Probably), Holmes had tipped off Launius and his motley crew to the existence of scads of drugs, guns, and money at the home of L.A. porn baron Eddie Nash (Bogosian, milking the sleaze for all its worth), which they subsequently robbed. The murder, then, was an apparent retaliation on the part of Nash, a man never known for his light touch. Ultimately, as the film points out, no one was ever convicted, although Holmes was brought to trial in Florida some time later. So what’s the point? If you’re looking for a fun time in drug hell, I’d point you to the just-released-on-DVD Jonas Åkerlund film Spun, which at the very least is immensely entertaining and at worst might give you a migraine. And if you’re up for some blunt-force trauma and kinky sex (and who isn’t?), you’d do better by Greg Kinnear’s eerie turn as Hollywood also-ran Bob Crane in Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus. And as for Kilmer’s Holmes, he plays the soiled semistar as a hapless, drug-goofy schnook, weak-willed and whining, as dopily eager as a puppy dog mainlining Peruvian Kibble. Only Friends’ Kudrow shines here, as Holmes’ ex-wife – without a stitch of style or make-up, she feels the realest in a universe of the depressingly absurd.

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