Los Angeles, 1981: troubled porn star John Holmes (Kilmer) is about to sell a stash of cocaine and skip town with his underage girlfriend (Bosworth) when the police question him about his involvement in the brutal murder of four of his ëbusiness colleague
Since the success of Boogie Nights, mainstream films have realised that putting 'the other Hollywood' - namely LA's flourishing porn industry - under the microscope can often make for compelling cinema. In light of this, it was inevitable that we would get a film about the biggest name in the business. For while Boogie Nights was all about Dirk Diggler, Wonderland focuses on a legendary episode from the life of John Holmes, the person on whom Diggler was almost entirely based.
In the '70s, Holmes' charm - and also his enormous appendage - quickly took him to the top of the porn industry, but his immersion in cocaine culture tarnished his reputation and put his career in reverse.
Director James Cox's choice to play Holmes is so spot on, you cannot imagine anyone else in the role. Who could be better at playing a washed-up ex-star who had it and blew it than Val Kilmer, a washed-up ex-star who had it and blew it? Add into the equation that, just as with the much derided Kilmer, Holmes was not hugely popular amongst his peers, and what you have is perfect casting. And though Kilmer has in the past often been unappealing even when playing supposedly likeable characters, here - as the well-meaning but massively flawed fuck-up Holmes - he is not only amazingly good, but surprisingly sympathetic.
Supporting Kilmer is a raft of recognisable faces (from Dylan McDermott and Josh Lucas, to Carrie Fisher and Janeane Garofalo), but it is Kate Bosworth as Holmes' 15 year-old girlfriend Dawn who particularly impresses, giving a weighty and moving performance as a girl forced to grow up too soon, suggesting she's far more than just 'that girl from Blue Crush'.
Another of the film's positive aspects is its narrative style, reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, which offers conflicting and incompatible versions of the 'truth' about the killings on Wonderland Avenue from each character. Presenting just one angle on an incident which has become part of the subculture folklore would have been to detract from its complexity and people's fascination with it; and moreover, it's not just a nod to Kurosawa, but also contributes to the film's freewheeling feel, generated by its pulsing energy and strong soundtrack.
Not only a slick slice of scuzz cinema bound for cult status, but a reminder that Kilmer, on form, is actually a man of considerable talent.