It takes a bold filmmaker to splash the legend of John Holmes (aka porn star Johnny Wadd) up on the screen before his film has even started, giving the hard-to-believe basics of Holmes' legend (1,000 films made, slept with 14,000 women), and then say that the movie to follow isn't about all of that, it's about what happened to John afterward. One imagines many an aging porn connoisseur ducking out the theater door upon that announcement. But director James Cox has made a solid bet, for the events of the summer of 1981 on Los Angeles's Wonderland Avenue make anything that could have happened before in Holmes's life seem like the most inconsequential trivia.

On July 1 of that year, four people were savagely beaten to death in a Laurel Canyon apartment that had long been a party hangout and drug-dealing haven; a fifth person was put into intensive care. Holmes (Val Kilmer) was at the center of the tangle of paranoia, greed, and confusion that led to the massacre. Always hanging out at the apartment scamming drugs for his vacuum-like habit, Holmes incurs the enmity of the hard cases living there (played by Tim Blake Nelson, Dylan McDermott in a frighteningly unconvincing biker beard, and Josh Lucas). To make it up to them, Holmes acts as their inside man for a robbery of the palatial home of his buddy Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), who just happens to be one of the biggest club-owners in Southern California and a bona-fide gangster, to boot. Things go poorly after the robbery, to say the least.

Continue reading: Wonderland (2003) Review