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"The Salton Sea"

Directed by D.J. Caruso.
Written by Tony Gayton. 
Starring Val Kilmer and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  5/19/02 


Believe it—this is the 50th film I have seen in theaters this year.  The Drive for 100 looks like cake right now, but you never want to speak too soon...maybe I’ll meet that girl, or get that job, or

blah blah blah.

From what I understand, “The Salton Sea” is not even out everywhere yet...and, it’s been open here for a month!  You have probably seen previews for it, but in case you haven’t, a quick synopsis is necessary.  Danny Parker (Val Kilmer) is a hard-core tweeker...a drug user that has a tight group of friends who all happen to be tweekers themselves.  Living the life of a speed freak is taking its toll on Parker...or, is it Tom Van Allen?  What is his real name?  He’s not really sure, since the movie cuts back and forth between the dual personalities of Kilmer’s character.  Van Allen is a trumpet player, with a beautiful girlfriend and what looks to be a promising future...but, Parker is a rat for the LAPD that is searching out other speed dealers to sell out to the cops.

But the truth about these two distinct personas only comes out in the latter stages of the film, and the script by Tony Gayton is fantastic in giving us bit by bit through flashbacks and stories by Kilmer in voiceover.  Kilmer is amazing here.  He has had some bad stuff come through the pipes over the last few years (ladies and gentlemen, “The Saint”), but his work here reminds you of his powerhouse early 90’s run, with his work in “The Doors” and my favorite Kilmer performance in “Tombstone.”  From his character’s twisted perspective on where the action takes us, to the makeup and the tattoos, to his gait when he is high or his eyes when he is facing some horrific-looking torture exercise, he makes you buy into it.  How director DJ Caruso got this performance out of Kilmer is beyond me, since Kilmer has a bad reputation for being difficult to work with on a set.  It helps that Kilmer is in almost every scene and has incredible supporting actors around him, including Vincent D’Onofrio, Luis Guzman, Anthony LaPaglia, and cameos by Meat Loaf and Danny Trejo.

And, this movie is just beautiful to look at.  Shots of Los Angeles at night haven’t looked this good in a while, and from talking to a friend of mine that interviewed the director a few weeks’ ago, Caruso’s goal of making things in each shot look incredibly alone works well here.  Shots of Kilmer walking down deserted streets and alleys, or a single car rolling up a side street, are impressive and create a mood that sets the tone for the whole movie.  The movie is very tense, but with its use of music and occasional bursts of comedy, this tone is lightened every so often to let you breath a little bit.

Add in an ending that brings home the bacon, and you’ve got a complete package.  Some minor details like a clichéd next-door neighbor (Deborah Unger) that has an abusive boyfriend are kept minor by the script, so they don’t bog down the main storyline.  All in all, solid stuff.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09