Wonderland (2003 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Cox
Written byJames Cox
Captain Mauzner
Todd Samovitz
D. Loriston Scott
Produced byMichael Paseornek
Holly Wiersma
CinematographyMichael Grady
Edited byJeff McEvoy
Music byCliff Martinez
Flirt Pictures
Emmett/Furla Films
Distributed byLions Gate Films
Release dates
Running time
104 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$5.5 million[2]
Box office$2.4 million[3]

Wonderland is a 2003 American crime drama film, co-written and directed by James Cox and based on the real-life Wonderland Murders that occurred in 1981. The film stars Val Kilmer, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, Carrie Fisher, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas, Christina Applegate, Tim Blake Nelson, and Janeane Garofalo. Kilmer plays the role of John Holmes, a famous pornographic film star and suspected accomplice in four grisly murders committed in a house at 8763 Wonderland Avenue, in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles. The film uses a nonlinear Rashomon-style narrative structure to present conflicting accounts of the murders from differing perspectives.


John Holmes and Dawn Schiller[edit]

The girlfriend of John Holmes, Dawn Schiller, is on the streets and picked up by a holy roller after Holmes leaves Schiller in a hotel room. Schiller eventually calls Holmes to come and get her. Holmes arrives at the apartment, and they have sex and snort cocaine in the bathroom. The next morning, while in a motel room, Dawn sees a newscast that states four people were murdered at a rowhouse on Wonderland Avenue, the same one she had earlier been at with Holmes. The story eventually moves on to two city detectives investigating the crime, Sam Nico and Louis Cruz, and their contact with Holmes. Another officer, Billy Ward, intervenes in the investigation.

David Lind's story[edit]

The next major character introduced is David Lind. He hears of his friends' murders at Wonderland and soon discovers his girlfriend was there. While at the crime scene, he is picked up by Nico and Cruz. Through Lind's story (told in flashbacks), we are introduced to some of the people who partied at Wonderland. These people, known as the Wonderland Gang, included Ron Launius and his wife Susan, Billy Deverell, Lind's 22-year-old girlfriend Barbara Richardson, and Joy Miller. Ron has a fondness for antique guns and frequently shows them off. When he learns that Holmes knows notorious gangster Eddie Nash, he gives Holmes a pair of stolen antique guns to take to Nash, so that Nash can fence them and the Wonderland Gang can split the loot. (Nash had befriended Holmes because of Holmes' notoriety as the porn film phenomenon Johnny Wadd.) Holmes takes the guns to Nash, but Nash says the guns are too rare to be sold, as they would be recognized right away and everyone involved would be apprehended. Rather than return the guns to Holmes, Nash keeps them for himself. Attempting to get back in the gang's good graces, Holmes suggests robbing Nash's home. Ron Launius is reluctant to go along with the robbery at first, but after Holmes gives him a rundown of what's there, he is eager to participate. Holmes volunteers to draw them a map to plan the robbery, since he has visited Nash's house frequently. Holmes then visits Nash to buy drugs, and on the way out leaves the kitchen door unlocked to give the Wonderland gang easy access.

The robbery of Eddie Nash[edit]

The next morning, Ron Launius, Lind, and Deverell carry out the robbery, while wheel-man Tracy McCourt waits outside in a car, serving as lookout. Neither Holmes nor any of the women are present when the robbery occurs. The Wonderland Gang gains access through the unlocked kitchen door and robs Nash at gunpoint. Lind accidentally fires his gun, wounding Nash's bodyguard, Greg Diles. The gang hurls racial epithets at Nash and Diles and walks away with over one million dollars in cash, jewels, and drugs. They bring their loot back to the Wonderland apartment to divide everything up. Holmes is unhappy with the cut he is given, even though he did not take part in the robbery and he's in debt to the gang.

Nash discovers Holmes was involved in the robbery, he has Holmes beaten and finds Holmes' little black book. He tells Holmes he will kill every person listed in the book, starting with Holmes' mother, if Holmes does not give up the men who robbed him.

July 1, 1981[edit]

The retaliation for the robbery is swift and fatal. On July 1, 1981, a group of Nash's henchmen (including Holmes), led by Diles, gains access to the apartment at Wonderland Avenue. Ron Launius, Deverell, Richardson, and Miller are all brutally beaten to death with striated lead pipes. Diles compels Holmes to deliver blows to Launius. Susan Launius is beaten but survives, and is questioned by Nico and Cruz in her hospital bed. She tells them (in a near comatose state) that she does not remember anything, only shadows. Lind is not present during the attacks.



To tell the story of John Holmes and the Wonderland murders as accurately as possible, director James Cox and producer Holly Weirsma tracked down the real Dawn Schiller and Sharon Holmes.[4] Holmes and Schiller, who had become close friends after John Holmes's death in 1988, acted as consultants for the film.[4]


The film had its world premiere on September 8, 2003 at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival.[5] The film was given a limited theatrical release by Lions Gate on October 3, 2003.[3]

Home media[edit]

The film was released to DVD by Lions Gate on February 10, 2004.[6] The DVD's bonus features included an audio commentary track by James Cox and co-writer Captain Mauzner, deleted scenes, and a Court TV segment about the Wonderland murders.[6] The release also includes the documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes, which interviews Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, Boogie Nights writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson, and Sharon Holmes.[6]

On October 5, 2010, Screen Gems released the film to Blu-ray. Previous extras from the 2004 DVD were carried over, with the exception of the Wadd documentary.[7]


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 34% based on 101 reviews. The site's consensus states: "A sordid and pointless movie with some good performances."[8] On Metacritic it has a score of 43% based on reviews from 36 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9]

Multiple critics praised the acting of Kilmer, Kudrow, and Bogosian.[10][11][12] Roger Ebert wrote "Kilmer is convincing as John Holmes, especially when he pinballs from one emotion to another; we see him charming, ugly, self-pitying, paranoid, and above all in need of a fix".[11] He added "Kudrow's performance is the most intriguing in the movie, and when she goes face to face with Holmes and coldly rejects his appeals for help, we guess maybe he needs her because she's the only adult in his life."[11]

Ed Gonzales of Slant Magazine wrote Kilmer "almost succeeds in redeeming the gaudy expressionism of Wonderland with his interpretation of Holmes's unnervingly palpable desperation. As the broken king of adult cinema, Kilmer babbles and charms and frightens, looking pathetically consumed and eaten away yet viciously driven by his appetites."[6]

Some critics called the Rashomon narrative device confusing,[11][6][10][13] but others defended it, with Nick Dawson of Empire saying "it contributes to the film's freewheeling feel, generated by its pulsing energy and strong soundtrack".[14][12] Others said the film's characters were underdeveloped, and that the film lacked a significant point of view.[5][10][15][13]

Gonzales of Slant Magazine wrote, "There’s little doubt that Cox wants to leave viewers affected by the emotional depth in Holmes's story, but when his film wears its vulgarity on its sleeve, the whole work ends up feeling far more exploitative than exploratory."[6] Ebert gave the film a mediocre review overall, granting it two out of four stars, and saying: "True crime procedurals can have a certain fascination, but not when they're jumbled glimpses of what might or might not have happened involving a lot of empty people whose main claim to fame is that they're dead."[11]

Critics also compared the film to Boogie Nights, with Jeff Vice of the Deseret News commenting, "Though it's based on a true story, 'Wonderland' feels considerably less real than 'Boogie Nights,' the completely fictional film that was influenced by some of the same material."[13][5] James Keast of Exclaim! said Wonderland "comes across as the last 40 minutes of Nights turned into a feature."[16] Critic Mark Deming wrote, "While Cox had a sad and compelling true story at his disposal, the results are flat and uninvolving, telling us almost nothing about Holmes or his fall into addiction and desperation, while Boogie Nights made Dirk Diggler's life both tragic and telling".[15]


  1. ^ "Wonderland (18)". British Board of Film Classification. March 1, 2004. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  2. ^ "Wonderland". The Numbers. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Wonderland (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Kennedy, Dana (September 7, 2003). "THE NEW SEASON/FILM; John Holmes's Boogie Life". The New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c McCarthy, Todd (September 10, 2003). "Wonderland". Variety. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Gonzales, Ed; Vasquez, John (January 29, 2004). "DVD Review: James Cox's Wonderland on Lionsgate Home Entertainment". Slant Magazine. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  7. ^ Bailey, Jason (October 25, 2010). "Wonderland". DVD Talk. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  8. ^ "Wonderland (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 20, 2011.
  9. ^ "Wonderland". Metacritic. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Scott, A.O. (October 3, 2003). "FILM REVIEW; A Film Stud Who Loses His Luster Is Sent to Graze on Seedy Pastures". The New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  11. ^ a b c d e Ebert, Roger (October 17, 2003). "Wonderland: Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 20, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Gleiberman, Owen (October 1, 2003). "Wonderland". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  13. ^ a b c Vice, Jeff (October 24, 2003). "Film review: Wonderland". Deseret News. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  14. ^ Dawson, Nick. "Wonderland Review". Empire. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  15. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "Wonderland". AllMovie. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  16. ^ Keast, James (February 1, 2004). "Wonderland". Exclaim!. Retrieved September 22, 2023.

External links[edit]