This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
I have to admit, my main interest in seeing Wonderland came from a momentary nomenclature malfunction on my part. This is indeed the latest film from a director named Cox, although it’s the rather less celebrated James Cox than the ex-Moviedrome presenting, Sid and Nancy directing, although probably no less obscure Alex Cox.
Here Jimmy Cox presents the tale of the Wonderland murders, rather nasty affair which would most likely have vanished into the background noise of L.A. violence were it not for the involvement of a certain John Holmes (Val Kilmer). The biggest male star of the porn industry of the eighties in the most single entendre of ways, Johnny Wadd (as his stage name goes, although this sadly misses a ‘Long Johnny Holmes’ trick, which could be parlayed into a series of innovative pirate themed pornography) seems to have fallen on hard times and in with a bad crowd.
Ron Launius (Josh Lucas) and Billy Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson) are a couple of small time criminals; robbing, hustling and dealing their way through life when they aren’t busy getting high on their own supply. Holmes may perhaps be better described as an acquaintance of Launius, who seems to appreciate the novelty of Holmes rather than his character. Understandable, as Holmes doesn’t have much in the way of character, which isn’t really replaceable with a prodigious coke habit.
The critical events of these murders (the killings, presumably) occur not long after this core group is joined by David Lind (Dylan McDermott), an equally unlikable vagabond although the exact chain of events differs depending on who you’re talking to. Rather diplomatically the film shows both Lind and Holmes’ version of events through respective interviews with rozzers left with the task of clearing up the brutal killings of Launius, Deverell, Lind’s girlfriend and the attempted murder of Susan Launius. Some commonality exists between their accounts, mainly based around a frankly ill-advised hold-up of local hotel owner and crime kingpin Eddie ‘The Arab’ Nash (Eric Bogosian), another acquaintance of Holmes’. A simple plan really, Holmes visiting Nash, purchasing some powdered nose candy and leaving the kitchen door unlocked for the rest of the crew to steamroller in waving weapons willy-nilly.
It’s a plan that sadly either doesn’t cater for or doesn’t care about the possibility of reprisals, which turns out to be a rather fatal mistake. The crux of the difference between Lind and Holmes’ version of events essentially boils down to whether or not Holmes was in the room wielding the blunt hitting sticks along with Nash’s crew. That Holmes let them through the gang’s security doors just as he did in the earlier attack seems to be unquestioned, especially when Nash is threatening to carry out shotgun assisted kneecap surgery on Holmes’ girlfriend Dawn (Kate Bosworth) and estranged wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow).
Like the results of the eventual trials of Holmes and Nash, the results of this film are muddy and inconclusive. Given that neither Lind nor Holmes are particularly likeable characters, exactly who you’re supposed to be sympathising with is never terribly clear or indeed if you’re supposed to be sympathising with anyone at all. Perhaps it’s only Sharon and Dawn who are innocent enough to deserve some kind thoughts, although with Holmes’ track record both surely know that being in his general vicinity invites this kind of trouble.
Despite the brutality of the crimes (implied rather than shown) and the notoriety of the players there somehow contrives to be little of interest in the actual events that unfold over the course of film. What makes Wonderland more worthy of comment is a fistful of commendable performances from sources you may not generally associate with giving them. Val Kilmer doesn’t have much to prove as an actor, appearing in a by now substantial catalogue of respected little indy films but many will still associate him with the big-budget horrors of Batman Forever and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Here Kilmer gives a great turn as the sleazy character, degenerating from a smug assuredness to a nervous disaster as events wend their way towards their horrible conclusion.
In fact, in terms of performances there’s not a lot to get upset about. Hell, even Josh Lucas stays on screen for more than two consecutive minutes and avoids filling me with an overwhelming urge to smack him in the face with a lump hammer. Bosworth and Kudrow do their reputations no harm by appearing here, although it’s McDermott and Kilmer who’ll keep your attention. I can’t help but feel if these characters could be grafted onto a more intriguing story then I’d be writing about something quite special indeed.
Sadly, I’m not. There’s enough value for your entertainment dollar to make this worth investing some of your time in, but not enough to warrant taking Herculean efforts to see it. A solid and reasonable way to while away a few hours but it lacks any essential hook to get a casual observer involved in the tale, despite the best efforts of all concerned. The story itself just isn’t the most compelling one, all accuracy and character fidelity aside. I’ve no real beef with this film, but no reason to praise it to the heavens either. Let’s call it a score draw and be done with it.