Two glaringly apparent aspects of James Cox's Wonderland is that the director has an ironic name all things considered and that Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights is by leaps and bounds the definitive 70's porn epic of our day. It almost appears as though Cox, also a writer here, saw Boogie Nights and simply thought to himself, “hey, I can do that”. But instead of riding the formidable member of the fictional Dirk Diggler, he wisely focused upon the legendary John “Johnny Wadd” Holmes and his alleged involvement with the gruesome murders on Wonderland Avenue in 1981. So far so good, but like many of us who have witnessed the graphic adult arts and believed that we too could be “stars” of the genre, Cox comes up a bit short. Making it in this business is not as easy as it looks.
A sickeningly good cast attempting to redefine their images, fuel-heavy nostalgia soundtrack, a story that involves multiple loops and arcs and flashbacks, and a Paris Hilton cameo do not necessarily a good movie make.
Powerful music will never replace content. The likeable Kate (Blue Crush) Bosworth as the promiscuous young lover of the unstable Holmes (Val Kilmer) and Dylan (The Practice) McDermott, unrecognizable as a drug addicted tough guy are curiously miscast. They exude a simplistic purity and wholesome attractiveness that contradicts the nature of the movie to a fault. The likes of Janeane Garofalo and Christina Applegate, among others, appear to be thrown in as extras just to up the profile of this under-whelming affair. The willingness of all these eclectic talents (including Josh Lucas, Tim Blake Nelson, and Eric Bogosian, all portraying caricatures) to participate in Wonderland leads one to think that this movie was supposed to be much better at its inception. Who wouldn't want to be in the next Boogie Nights? Look how many careers that sleeper hit made or resurrected. This film, however, will fade away quicker than Jenna Jameson when she hits thirty-five.
The one standout talent turning in a felt performance is Lisa Kudrow as the inexplicably “loyal” wife of the irredeemable, unpleasant, foolish mess that is John Holmes. Val Kilmer has no where to go with this character because he clearly had only one outstanding feature worth watching and again, unlike Boogie Nights, we don't get to see it here.
In fact, in another strange and unexpected turn of events, we only meet Holmes well after his career in pictures is over. We do not get the benefit of peeking in on the man in action, on understanding his celebrity, or appreciating his decadent rise. Sure people recognize him with a “aren't you that guy?”, but the film only concentrates on his fall.
The script, accredited to four writers, is, unfortunately for the audience, so cheesy and effortless that I wonder if any of these writers ever actually wrote the dialogue for pornographic cinema. It is the type of movie where people turn on the television and the newscast reporter is reciting the precise information needed to move the story along.
Holmes led a wasted life that ended up with him dying of an AIDS related illness in 1988. He spent his time on earth in a slimy, exploitive business that breeds on human weakness and involves no real talents or character. In other words, Wonderland suits him fine.