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By Patrick Starkey | May 15, 2002

THE EXPERT OPINION ^ Hello readers, my name is Patrick Starkey. Or is it Thomas Van Allen? Or is it Mojo Jojo? Confused? Well try blowing a couple of hours watching the horror that is “The Salton Sea” and see how you feel.
The real Salton Sea was formed when the Colorado River burst through poorly built irrigation controls south of Yuma, Arizona less than a hundred years ago. Coincidentally, the movie’s story was apparently thrown together in just as haphazard a way. Val Kilmer stars as Danny Parker, or is he Thomas Van Allen? Van Allen is a jazz musician (a profession that is to noir what pizza delivery boy is to porn) whose beloved wife was murdered for some initially unknown reason near the aforementioned salt lake. Parker is supposedly a crystal meth addict, or what the film teaches us is a “TWEEKER”, and an occasional police snitch. What one identity has to do with the other is the central mystery. Eventually I didn’t care who he was, and neither will you.
Technically, director D.J. Caruso and his crew have done a fine job for what is probably a low-budget movie. However, the quality of the filmmaking and whatever I know about film aren’t why I’m ranting at the moment. I’m ranting purely because I’m offended. You know, if I was a jazz musician or a cop I’d probably be really annoyed. I’m neither. What I was (and to a lesser degree still am), is a methamphetamine addict; previously defined as a “tweeker”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done plenty of other drugs, but crystal meth is the one that slowly seemed to get the better of me. Coincidentally and despite a large presence on the West Coast, it’s the one hard drug that has been least often portrayed in film. Regardless of the poison of choice, I’m always a little miffed when an actor onscreen is supposedly on a specific drug but too lazy to learn what the actual side-effects are.
I remember slogging through a piece of crap called “The Young Unknowns” where the lead characters snort a bunch of coke and act like they’re on coke, then snort a bunch of speed (yes, crystal meth), and still act like they’re on coke. Another hated act of ego and/or laziness occurs when a lazy writer and/or director employ the story element of narcotics to justify creating some would-be edgy, fantasy freakshow that has become their great “vision.”
Of course soon after a brief, and relatively accurate (though lively) history of amphetamines in our culture that opens “The Salton Sea”, the friggin’ clown college opens for business. Adam Goldberg, Glenn Plummer and others all attempt to out-scuzz and out-act each other through every moment of screen-time as Danny’s tweeker buddies, but no one is up to the task of outdoing Vincent D’Onofrio as the noseless, drug-dealing, philosophizing, JFK assassination reenacting , nose-less psychopath Pooh Bear. See, he lost his nose by sticking it in the meth cookie jar a few thousand too many times.
Could anyone actually get as loopy if they’d been up for a year as Pooh Bear claims to be? You’d think so. However, every Meth dealer I’ve ever met might as well have had an expiration date stamped on their forehead, as sooner or later each would at some point screw up, get in over his head, and in some way just burn out. Whatever the hell D’Onofrio is doing, it’s not an attempt at a creating a real person, just another exhibit in his menagerie of nutjobs, i.e., The Cell, “Full Metal Jacket,” “Men in Black,” etc., etc., etc. Kilmer could have given him a run for his money, though, but for once in his career he doesn’t act like he’s on drugs ever, with the possible exception of Valium. You’d think that with all the time the actor had to spend in makeup having those big fake tattoos applied, he’d be a little more involved with the story. Maybe he realized sooner that I did that the effort would have only been wasted on this colossal pile of dreck that tries too hard to be Tarantino, too many years after anyone would still have been remotely interested. As it is, out of a large cast only Peter Sarsgaard, as Parkers’s best friend and drug-friend Jimmy, apparently showed up to work with a sincere desire to act.
Has the 21st century seen any noteworthy examples of the cinema of speed? Actually two underground films that saw that barely saw the light of day last year are far more authentic AND entertaining that “The Salton Sea” could ever dream to be. Cookers is a horror film about meth cookers (talk about paranoia), while Tweeked is a quasi-road picture about a pair of young tweeker women, who strangely never seem to actually go anywhere.
Am I out of line here? Is authenticity too much to ask? It’s not as if the various drug subcultures don’t have enough humor and tragedy built in that you need to take a detour into Fantasyland. Maybe I don’t feel events or a culture that reflect upon a part of my life of which I’m deeply ambivalent should be treated with more respect than it gets from some lazy, arrogant twit out to craft his bullshit vision of a bullshit noir epic. Maybe it would be nice if the writer wasn’t talking out of his a*s. With the likes of A Beautiful Mind and “Hurricane” you have to wonder. Not that any of this kind of griping new. I bet every wiseguy in New York and New Jersey used to grind his teeth every time Hollywood churned out a pre-Godfather gangster epic like “The Brotherhood” that seemed to be written, directed, produced, and/or starring what were decidedly non-Italians. The irony here is that while the mob never had more that a limited presence in tinseltown, Hollywood has always been full of drug addicts. So, if the perpetrators behind this atrocity had really wanted to make any stab at authenticity, they really wouldn’t have need to go far to find a “technical expert” to ask. Too bad they didn’t try.

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