The Salton Sea

This tricky film noir starts all poetic-like, with Val Kilmer playing jazz trumpet and then telling us in voice-over why his world went up in flames (literally, we see the flames). No fear. There's more life in this baby than the opening lets on. In flashback, we learn that Kilmer's Danny Parker is a jazz musician driven by tragedy — the murder of his wife (Chandra West) — to turn police informant and go undercover in the Los Angeles sub-culture of crystal-methamphetamine junkies.

These scary-funny tweakers, including Kujo (Adam Goldberg) and Creeper (Ricky Trammell), stay up for days inhaling carpet cleaners, or any other crank. Director D.J. Caruso (HBO's Black Cat Run) and screenwriter Tony Gayton dally with Danny's redemptive fling with Colette (the smoky-sexy Deborah Kara Unger), a troubled neighbor whose lover, Quincy (Luis Guzman), makes a sport out of smacking her around. But it's Vincent D'Onofrio as Pooh-Bear, a drug lord who's snorted so much meth his nose had to be replaced by a plastic one, who kicks ass. With Pooh-Bear, who lets his pet badger nibble on the dicks of his enemies and re-enacts the JFK assassination with pigeons, D'Onofrio creates a rock-the-house villain. He's the fire in the belly of this cool groove of a movie.

From The Archives Issue 895: May 9, 2002
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