Wonderland is self-described as, "The story of what happened once the legend was over." The legend is porn star John C. Holmes and what happened is the brutal murder of four people on Wonderland Avenue in 1982. Was Holmes involved? No one knows. In a Rashomon-like fashion, Wonderland presents three different accounts of the events surrounding the killings and invites the audience to draw their own conclusions.
From the very beginning Wonderland is mediocre and it never really vacillates. Writer/ Director James Cox seemed to be trying so hard to NOT make Boogie Nights that he overlooks some important aspects of filmmaking like: ADR and story arc. There are significant moments in this film where I had no idea what was going on because I could barely see the characters and I couldn't understand their mumbled dialogue at all. When the film was over I wondered what year it was as Wonderland feels as though it is about five hours long. Without a distinct story arc or at least some lighter scenes to break up the relentless intensity of the story, Wonderland is an exhausting experience.
I wouldn't have been quite so disappointed in Wonderland if I hadn't seen an excellent documentary on the very same subject called, WADD: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. WADD presents the same information on the murders but in a more coherent way. What's more, WADD does not try to sell Holmes to the audience as some kind of misunderstood loser. Wonderland fails to mention that Holmes was a police informant to the L.A.P.D. vice squad and, despite knowing he was HIV positive, continued to make adult films and even requested to do more orgy films.
Val Kilmer, as Holmes, is good but no great. In other words, it's not time to celebrate Kilmer's return to cinema. Kilmer achieves the right blend of puppy dog, sleaze and stupidity put across by the real Holmes; but, like the rest of the film, he plays the same note over and over. Luckily, Wonderland is really more of an ensemble film.
The supporting cast is the only good thing about Wonderland. A nearly unrecognizable Dylan McDermott delivers one of the few multi-dimensional performances. Kate Bosworth is also good as Holmes' girlfriend Dawn. In a film full of selfish druggies, she manages to create a character the audience can actually care about. But the best performance in the entire film is, surprise! Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow is outstanding as Holmes' wife Sharon. This is her best performance since The Opposite of Sex and, so long as there isn't a Marci X 2 she shows great potential for a post-Friends acting career.
Not every supporting actor is great. Eric Bogosian absolutely stinks as the nightclub king Eddie Nash. His oddly accented shouts of "You don't mess with The Nash," actually made me laugh out loud in a serious scene as I recalled a similar line from The Big Lebowski.
To the filmmakers credit, the Rashomon style of organization (telling the story three times) works very well given the differing historical viewpoints on what really happened at Wonderland. And, the film is never boring so much as it is relentless. Ultimately, though, Wonderland fails to deliver on its two major promises which are a) to attempt to bring Val Kilmer's career back to life (Kilmer's total screen time couldn't be more than 20 minutes) and b) entertain the audience with a thorough presentation of the possible events which lead up to Wonderland.
Megan A. Denny