The Salton Sea
Once upon a time,
the Fridays just pre- and post- summer were the time to open star-powered
pictures with moderate budgets and decent scripts, but as the summer
movie season oozes out into the year like Home Run Pie-fueled love handles,
it becomes harder and harder to know what to expect during fringe months
like April and May. The Salton Sea cuts into a slick trailer
and that's about it. And, like a trailer, it's nothing more than a series
of interesting visuals and moments with no overall structure or logic.
The film begins
promisingly with the doomed end, like a noir that knows how to
play the game. Danny Parker (Val Kilmer) soulfully blows his trumpet
while the room behind him goes up in flames. Parker, a classically detached
narrator, asks the audience to solve his identity problem and backs
up the story.
Living in that
movie world where meth fiends are more interesting than normal folks,
Danny splits his time between binges and turning in his dealers to two
cops. As the tale progresses we learn that it's all an elaborate ruse
for Danny to find the men who murdered his wife. Even though it sounds
intriguing, it is all for nothing.
As much potential
as this picture has, it wastes it all on a jumbled narrative that follows
one predictable straight line through the intrigue and insanity of its
crank-addled world. This flick could have benefited from the Witness
factor - an average genre piece can rise above its brothers when set
in a world that we haven't seen. The world of meth labs and tweakers
is ripe for the noir treatment, but The Salton Sea's story
is so poorly constructed that the scenery might be interesting, but
the ride is lame.
Flashes of Guy
Ritchie-esque fun shine through, such as in a crank-fantasy heist sequence
with a '70s-style title shot and a targeted score of Bob Hope's stool
sample. But like most of the film it's simply an indulgence to quirky
characters, built with gags lifted from other pictures rather than part
of the story. The film feels like the work of someone who took a film
noir class but slept through most of the screenings and never did
any of the readings.
For more evidence
towards the poor film student theory, there are direct quotes from Psycho's
shower sequence and Dirty Harry, both with the protagonist on
the wrong side of the homage and used for no other reason other than
an inability to create anything original. The voiceover even complains
"What a cliché" at one point, in a failed attempt at irony. Like Swordfish,
The Salton Sea comes off even lamer by reminding us of much better
films and giving off a "been there done that" attitude without the knowledge
that comes with experience.
The Salton Sea
is one of those movies that is more enjoyable to think about than to
watch. It's filled with great actors playing neat characters, but those
characters have nothing to do. Any picture that wastes the awesome talents
of Luis Guzman and Vincent D'Onofrio is a crime. D'Onofrio does his
Oldman best to make a bad picture worth watching for a fun, over-the-top
villain. Even with as many great bits as he has, including a missing
nose thanks to an out of control snorting habit and recreating the JFK's
visit to Dallas with pigeons, it's all for naught.
should be made of the only good thing to come out of this film, which
will hopefully be more recognition for Peter Sarsgaard (Boys Don't
Cry). As Parker's none too bright best friend, Sarsgaard brings
out a sad humanity in his strung out character who has finally found
something in life to like. The moment when he thanks Parker for not
laughing at him when he doesn't know what JFK stands for is so genuine
that it makes up for a lot of the other missteps the film takes.
Missteps may not
be the right word. The film never missteps, or at least our main character
never missteps. Parker goes straight from Point A to Point B without
ever being lost or unsure. Noir is dependent on the main character
being lost along with the audience. Lacking the trapped feeling and
double crosses of noir, with the straight ahead plotting of a
Lundgren revenge actioner, this picture is straight to video fodder
buoyed to the surface of a theatrical April release by Kilmer's fading
star. The Salton Sea has all the makings of a stylish suspense
thriller, just without all the suspense, style and thrills.
What's It Worth?