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Wonderland Review

By Shawn McKenzie 10/19/2003

In 1997, director Paul Thomas Anderson brought out a great movie about the life story of a fictional porn star named Dirk Diggler called Boogie Nights.  He freely admitted that the story was based on the life of legendary porn star John Holmes.  Even though the movie was entertaining, I was curious to see a movie based on the real story.  I thought that the movie Wonderland was going to be that movie, with the Wonderland Murders as the climax of the film.  Unfortunately, the murders take up the whole movie.

 

By the summer of 1981, John Holmes (Val Kilmer), a famous porn star of over 2,000 films, had become a junkie whose career was over.  On July 1 of that year, his life got a whole lot worse.  He became implicated in the Laurel Canyon Murders, a.k.a. the Wonderland Murders.  Ron Launius (Josh Lucas), Joy Miller (Janeane Garofalo), Barbara Richardson (Natasha Gregson Wagner), and Billy Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson) were all murdered, and Ronís wife Susan (Christina Applegate) suffered severe head injuries and was never able to identify her attackers.  Ron, Susan, and Billy were all Johnís new drug buddies, along with David Lind (Dylan McDermott), and he had conspired with all of them to rob the notorious drug kingpin Adel Nasrallah, a.k.a. Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian.)  John is still married to his estranged wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow), but heís now seeing 16-year-old Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth.)  Lind tells detectives Sam Nico (Ted Levine) and Louis Cruz (Franky G.) that John was the mastermind, while John tells Detective Billy Ward (M.C. Gainey) that he was just an innocent stooge.  Nash forced John to let his right-hand man Greg Diles (Faizon Love) into the apartment and enact payback for the robbery.  Between Johnís, Lindís, and Dawnís stories, it is still unclear as to what really happened.

 

The movie is told in a Rashomon-style, which I normally like, but in the case of this movie, I wish they hadnít gone that route.  The whole movie explores the events of the circumstances leading up to the murders, and since it is told from several points-of-view, John Holmes is practically reduced to a supporting character.  I wanted to see more of Johnís life story.  In fact, one of the annoying things about the movie was when he would reference something in his past during his conversations with Sharon.  Unless you are a hardcore Holmes fan who knew everything about the man, you wouldnít understand what he was talking about.  There wasnít even any nudity in the movie, other than a brief butt-crack shot from John.

 

On the plus side, the performances were mostly wonderful.  Kilmer did a decent job as John, though I thought another actor could have played it better.  Kudrow proved once again that she is able to do comedy and drama with expertise.  McDermott is practically unrecognizable in the movie, which is good, because Iíd hate to picture ďThe PracticeísĒ Bobby Donnell while watching him.

Wonderland is somewhat interesting if the murders are the only part of John Holmesí life that you are interested in watching.  The acting is top notch, but the story leaves you unfulfilled.  I still hold out the hope that we will see a movie based on his life that covers it from birth to death, but until then, I think I will just watch Boogie Nights again.

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