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Val Kilmer tries to escape from "Wonderland."

© 2003, Lions Gate
All Rights Reserved

Prodigiously endowed John C. Holmes' amazing potential for smut success was discovered in the late '60s, the story goes, by a stag photographer in the men's room of a poker parlor. Launched quickly into a now-legendary porn career rumored to have included sex with over 14,000 women in more than 2,000 hardcore films, Holmes, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1988, succumbed to the lure of drugs. It is in 1981, when his addiction and life are spinning out of control, that the story of "Wonderland" (IMDb listing) begins.

The stellar cast turns in phenomenal performances without exception. Blink though, and you'll miss the somewhat disconcerting appearance of hotel heiress Paris Hilton lounging on a yacht as the aptly-named Barbie. Yes, really. It's a pleasure though to see Val Kilmer back in top form, no less in one of those rare movies where everything just comes together perfectly.

It's business as usual for Los Angeles police when the members of a local drug gang are found bludgeoned to death in their house on Wonderland Avenue -- until their investigation leads them to porn king John C. Holmes (Kilmer). By that time, the summer of 1981, Holmes' career is in tatters. Addicted to drugs and financially ruined, he is devoted to his teenage girlfriend Dawn (Kate Bosworth) and estranged wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow), and friends with notorious gangster Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian) as well as drug dealer Ron Launius (Josh Lucas), who, along with his business partner David Lind (Dylan McDermott), runs the Wonderland party house. But then Lind tells police that the Wonderland gang, at Holmes' prompting, robbed Nash of drugs and money, and the killings appear to be retaliation. Holmes however tells a very different story, and just who's telling the truth is for investigators to find out.

Kilmer, always director James Cox' first choice for the role of Holmes because of his uncanny knack for humanizing less-than-sympathetic characters, took some convincing before reading the script and signing on for the lead. Sharing his unusual take on the infamous Holmes, gained from insights provided by the real-life Sharon Holmes and Dawn Schiller (who both acted as consultants for the film), Kilmer says: " John was a real romantic. He loved his girlfriend and he was still friends with his wife. He definitely was a tortured soul who did a lot of awful things to everybody, betrayed everyone he knew, every dealer he ever met, but, in a strange way, he remained absolutely loyal to Dawn and Sharon."

It may not seem all that appealing a film, set in such a sordid milieu, but the combination of true crime and unique love story give "Wonderland" a universal appeal. While you wouldn't expect it from a gruesome quadruple murder based on a true story, from acting and direction to cinematography and soundtrack, it's a gorgeous experience.

Filmfodder Grade: A

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