The Salton Sea: Drugs Accelerate Identity Crisis


directed by D.J. Caruso with Val Kilmer and Vincent D'Onofrio opens May 17 at Guild 45 A HANDSOME, disheveled man is obsessed with avenging the brutal slaying of his wife. Tattoos with symbolic and literal significance to the murder adorn his well-cut torso. No, I'm not talking about Memento. The same man is also a tweaker, dealing, devouring, and waxing poetic about crank in low-rent L.A. His zonked-out inner circle discusses an inspired heist scheme that would culminate with the auctioning of purloined celebrity feces. No, I'm not talking about Go, Blow, or Permanent Midnight. The Salton Sea is not quite as derivative as those comparisons imply, but it is ultimately a well-intentioned misfire. The film asks us to fill in an enormous blank—how did an accomplished trumpet player and loving husband (Val Kilmer) degenerate into a craven junkie snitch—before giving up in the third act and just spitting it out. "Am I Danny Parker or Tom Van Allen?" Kilmer wonders via cryptic voice-over. "Avenging angel or Judas Iscariot?" Don't get too excited. This ambiguity has a very tidy, pedestrian explanation. Thankfully, the hero's identity crisis jostles for screen time with deft low-life comedy. While their story's lacking, director D.J. Caruso and writer Tony Gayton show a flair with the particulars of characterization. Their villains bulge with menace; Glenn Plummer atones for Showgirls as a tic-laden, speargun-wielding dealer, and Vincent D'Onofrio's villain is a singularly appalling invention on par with Frank Booth. His re-enactment of the Kennedy assassination is the most uproariously tasteless version since The House of Yes. Interestingly, Sea's plot strand hinges on, well, a strand. In a shot in the dark to end all shots in the dark, Kilmer uses a single hair from his wife's murder scene to miraculously unearth the killer. Gayton incorporates similar forensic trickery in his Murder by Numbers screenplay. That movie has its bald spots, too.

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