John Holmes was a legend of the porn industry and revered in circles as a stud. But in 1981, years after his successful career and star fading, Holmes was a desperate man with his own internal demons to live up to. He's estranged from his wife, holding onto a relationship with his teenage mistress, and living as a junkie in search of his next fix. But one fateful night left four people dead and John as a key suspect in one of the most grisly murders in Los Angeles. Was he partly responsible for what happened at Wonderland Avenue? Written by
Rashomon meets Boogie Nights to produce an interesting if imperfect 'job gone wrong' crime biopic
John Holmes was the worlds' biggest porn star in all senses of the world, however after the fame came a basic life of drugs and crime to get by. One such job was a robbery and murders at Laurel Canyon in 1981. With the police investigating the violent aftermath of the robbery, they take in David Lind who tells them a story of how Holmes set up the whole job and how the planned robbery of 'The Arab' turned out to be a robbery of kingpin Eddie Nash, leading to Nash's revenge killing of the gang except Lind. However, bringing Holmes in for questioning they get told an entirely different story.
With an intriguing and stylish trailer, I was looking forward to the film and, despite it coming and going quickly in the cinema I managed to catch it on DVD. I'm not sure of the true John Holmes story and, after this film I'm none the wiser about the truth or even basic facts. The film plays with the truth in the same way as Rashomon (or for fanboys Hero) does, having the same story told several different ways by different characters. In a way this does enough to keep the story moving and keeps it interesting enough to watch, with the brutal 'truth' being a very difficult scene to watch, however as a total story it is unsatisfying. Attempts to bring in issues around John's relationship with Sharon felt too rushed and didn't work, likewise his relationship with Dawn wasn't very well handled. With four writers on the job, it is easy to see some of this as compromise but this doesn't excuse it. With so many half-delivered characters and threads in the film it is forced to do about 7 or 8 text cards at the end to explain what happened to everyone while this was interesting it does show the failure in the film that these things should have been better woven into the film; as it was it felt like it had left more than half the story until these cards.
However, side issues aside the main plot about the job really does work very well and the Rashomon approach does work well to keep the interest a straight telling would have lost this element and also made for a less engaging film. If the characters had been better and the attempts at wider themes and subjects had actually worked better than they did then this would have been a much better film, but this is no Boogie Nights and the attempts at a bigger picture simply don't come together. This is not the fault of the cast though, as they all do pretty well even if some of them are given practically nothing to work with. Kilmer is good with what he has and, when allowed to, manages to bring really sorrow to Holmes in a convincing manner.
Bosworth isn't so good and I never bought her once certainly her performance made the jump to Dawn's actions 6 months after this story ended seem impossible and I got the feeling that she had just played it all wrong.
Kudrow takes yet another step away from Friends and who would have thought that she would be the one to carve out a career outside of her character? She is given precious little time but she matches her makeup and comes across as hurt and weary. Nelson and Lucas are both good but I was more surprised by McDermott, who was good and almost unrecognisable. Fisher's involvement is a mystery to me and her early scene could have been removed without any loss. Bogosian fits his character perfectly and Garofalo is in there if you look hard, but again you have to wonder why she bothered. Paris Hilton turns up as a ditzy blonde bimbo trading on her looks a role that didn't seem to be too much of a stretch for her in the few seconds she was on screen (why the film cheapened itself with her involvement is beyond me).
Overall this is an interesting and engaging film that works well as a crime thriller crossed with a Rashomon telling. However the attempts to open the story out and involve wider issues from Holmes' life pretty much all fall flat, leaving the film feeling half-cooked and rather unsatisfying, with a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up as the final credits wait to roll.
Worth seeing but not as good as it really could have been.
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