3 out of 5 stars
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This tale of drugs and murder is compelling and fascinating mostly because it's a true story made with the inside perspective of survivors who served as consultants. This gives us information that helps sort the facts from the rumours, which the filmmakers cleverly play on. Set in 1981, it centres on has-been porn star John Holmes (Kilmer), whose life spiralled out of control due to drug abuse. He has taken his girlfriend (Bosworth) with him into the abyss, while his loyal-but-distant wife (Kudrow) does what she can to help. But the final straw comes when he gets involved in a brutal gangland-style slaughter at a house on Wonderland Avenue in L.A. Four people are dead, and two cops (Franky G and Levine) are trying to piece together the story from conflicting stories told them by Holmes and a low-life druggie (McDermott), plus their own conjecture.

Intriguingly well shot in a dark, dense style, the film is cleverly edited with graphics based on newspapers and maps that only add visual zing and place the film firmly in the period. There's also an excellent song score (that's only occasionally too-obvious), plus clever background music by Cliff Martinez. And performances are in the period style, slightly broad and nervous; think Angie Dickinson in Big Bad Mama and you're there! As a result, the film is quite cold. These are losers and junkies who are virtually impossible to identify with. The one decent person is played wonderfully by Kudrow--she really becomes the film's heart. There are also top actors in side roles, many against type, which adds an layer to the film's examination of celebrity gone horribly wrong. But perhaps the strangest thing is Cox's apparent obsession with drugs and violence, which are graphically and hideously depicted, while he seems squeamish and embarrassed about sex. This wastes the chance to honestly weave Holmes' career into the story. And while the Rashomon-like multiple versions of events are riveting, Cox's main misstep is to leave out real resonance. He efficiently tells a good story; we're gripped but we never care.

cert 18 strong adult themes, violence, language, drugs 14.Oct.03 lff

dir James Cox
scr James Cox, Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz, D Loriston Scott
with Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, Josh Lucas, Eric Bogosian, Tim Blake Nelson, Janeane Garofalo, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Christina Applegate, Franky G, Ted Levine, Faizon Love, MC Gainey, Tess Parker, Carrie Fisher
release US 17.Oct.03; UK 7.May.04
Lions Gate
03/US 1h44

The mobster and the porn star: Bogosian and Kilmer.

kilmer kudrow bosworth
mcdermott lucas garofalo
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall