The Salton Sea

A room full of burning money, a man blowing mournfully on a trumpet, a portentous voice musing about guilt and identity. The good news is that this flashy noir pastiche, which is so buzzed on its own hopped-up style that no one seems to have realized it's not half as clever or deep as it thinks, is still far more entertaining than its lugubrious opening...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A room full of burning money, a man blowing mournfully on a trumpet, a portentous voice musing about guilt and identity. The good news is that this flashy noir pastiche, which is so buzzed on its own hopped-up style that no one seems to have realized it's not half as clever or deep as it thinks, is still far more entertaining than its lugubrious opening would suggest: It's a manic trip down Hell's midway that's so sleazy you could pick up a contact high. Though the Salton Sea, a terminal saline lake near the California-Mexico border, is featured in one scene, it's primarily a metaphor for the poisonous world of addiction. L.A. jazzman Danny Parker (Val Kilmer) is strung out on crystal meth and haunted by guilt over his wife's (Chandra West) murder, which he witnessed but couldn't prevent. Wallowing in the high-octane underworld of hardcore meth addicts — tweakers — Parker has turned his back on every aspect of his former life, even his real name. But Parker has a secret: He's dropping a dime on his druggy friends in return for a get-out-of-jail-free card from detectives Garcetti and Morgan (Anthony LaPaglia, Doug Hutchison). What Garcetti and Morgan won't do is protect him from the angry associates of a drug dealer he helped put away; they just suggest he get out of town. So Danny concocts a plan: He knows an urban cowboy, Bubba (B.D. Wong), who's always looking for new suppliers. Danny's pal Jimmy (Peter Sarsgaard), a pretty nice kid for a tweaker, knows a heavy-duty player named Pooh Bear (Vincent D'Onofrio). If Danny brokers a big-money transaction between Bubba and Pooh Bear, his cut should be enough to help him disappear. But Bubba is skittish and Pooh Bear is a stone psycho who snorted so much of his own product his nose fell off, leaving two raw holes that he covers with a latex prosthesis. Further complicating matters is Danny's tentative relationship with his new neighbor, Colette (Deborah Kara Unger), a bruised beauty with a bad boyfriend (Luis Guzman) and some secrets of her own. Though this self-conscious thriller relies heavily on flashbacks and hallucinatory scene transitions, comparisons to MEMENTO (2001) are wrong-headed and misleading. This is a thoroughly conventional story of one man's search for redemption in the neon slime; its multiple flashback structure is just a way of parceling out information, not a device used to undermine the narrative.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: A room full of burning money, a man blowing mournfully on a trumpet, a portentous voice musing about guilt and identity. The good news is that this flashy noir pastiche, which is so buzzed on its own hopped-up style that no one seems to have realized it's… (more)

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