Think Boogie Nights without the sex, glitz or humour. Not much boogie, either. But while Wonderland is too preoccupied with its multiple roughed-up film stock and restless, split-screen editing to try telling a coherent story, that’s very much the point...
It’s clear on one thing: these murky events are made interesting because a porn star was probably involved. But even that’s questionable. Although the opening credits revel in porno’s ’70s golden age, and the publicity poster is Sticky Fingers meets Robert Mapplethorpe, the hosepipe-hung Holmes is just a bit player – one more lowlife chasing oblivion.
There’s already been a perfectly good documentary on the Holmes/ Wonderland story (Wadd: The Life And Times Of John C Holmes) that adopted a similar technique: present the alternative accounts and let the viewer come to a conclusion. The big issue: how was the washed-up, freebasing Holmes involved in the bludgeoning to death of four people? Apart from Kilmer’s excellent take on the scraggy waster with an underage junkie girlfriend, Cox gives us little to go on. But again, that’s the point – no-one really knows what happened on that fateful night and to present one version as correct would be not just dishonest but irresponsible.
Instead we have two different testimonies, one from Holmes and one from McDermott’s drifter. It may be just two losers giving their sides of a sleazy story but, boy, it makes for gripping, intriguing storytelling.
Good performances, too. Kilmer retches out a podgy, scraggy-bearded version of the legendary stud, and McDermott and Eric Bogosian are suitably intense and unhinged. But the most interesting relationship of all is the love/hate triangle between Holmes, his girlfriend Dawn and his wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow). These are people who still care despite the layers of hurt and mistrust, meaning you can even accept Holmes’ ludicrous suggestion that they skulk off to the Witness Protection Program as one big, crappy family.
Far from perfect, Wonderland remains a fascinating tale, inventively told. Expect plenty of pub chats about the impossibility of objective ‘truth’.
A grubby, potent little puzzler. It's hard to care about some characters but Kilmer's performance adds a much-needed edge of humanity.