Directed by James Cox, starring Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Dylan McDermott, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Eric Bogosian and Tim Blake Nelson.
1 July, 1981. Four people are found mercilessly pummelled to death on Wonderland Avenue in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. The cops are initially baffled but soon learn that it's drug-related, and that fading porn star John Holmes is in some way implicated.
Welcome to 'Wonderland', James Cox's dramatisation of the real-life events that provoked shock even in the notorious wasteland of downtown LA. Sweeping backwards and forwards as different characters give their version of events, the film is not structured to confuse, but is primed to play with our perceptions of who's screwing whom.
'Wonderland' is not strictly about John Holmes, he just happens to be a ready-made symbol for it. If there was one thing that Holmes knew more about other than sex, it was drugs, and the whole film is awash with bad medicine. But even as you watch the highs turn into hellish lows, there is still a guilty pleasure of being saturated in drugs and LA hedonism from the safe
distance of a cinema seat. Throughout, excitement and adrenaline is tempered by unease at the relentless seediness on display.
And yet this is not really due to anything on screen, but more to do with what we know of subsequent real-life events. Holmes is no prodigal son. Leaving aside what we know of his ultimate demise (he died of AIDS in 1988), at no point in this do we get an inkling that this man is anything other than hell-bent on self-destruction. As played by Val Kilmer, he comes across as a roguish but naïve lost soul, blinded by the glare of the pleasure that pseudo-fame has promised but never delivered.
'Wonderland' has been hyped as the film to put Kilmer back in the spotlight. But although he does shine, he is just one of the reasons that this works so well. Around him, the entire cast excels. Lisa Kudrow tones down her 'Friends' histrionics in her portrayal of Holmes' long-suffering wife, Sharon; Dylan McDermott and Josh Lucas exude menace and drug-addled psychosis as members of the Wonderland drugs gang; and Kate Bosworth captures a sweet charm as Holmes' 15-year-old girlfriend, Dawn.
If it were complete fiction, 'Wonderland' would have plenty of appeal. But because it's based on fact, it glides towards a must see. However, this is not because of its authenticity. Rightly or wrongly, Cox never tries to evince the built-in bleakness of the LA party environment. Ultimately, this is no 'Requiem For A Dream'. The excess here is grossly sanitised, and the downward spiral has more to do with greed than anything drug-related.
But despite this cosmetic charade, 'Wonderland' is still hugely enjoyable. It looks good, it sounds great, and essentially it's just one long party until the debauchery inevitably comes to collect its tax. Granted, you wouldn't want to be any of these people for very long. But, hey, a day in the life doesn't sound too bad.