Lost in Found: The Salton Sea

Last week I took some time off, so this week I thought I would reward you, me or whoever reads this little segment of the website with one of my absolute favorite films, The Salton Sea. In this Neo-Noir we follow Danny Parker, or is he Tom Van Allen? The brilliant thing is it’s left up to the viewer to decide who he really has become. On one hand we have a man that watched his wife die by the gun of drug dealers and has thrown away everything to uncover their identity, even if that means becoming Danny Parker.  The other side to Val Kilmer’s complex character is a low-life tweaker who would sell out his own mother for another hit. In the film’s opening monologue, we are asked to decide for ourselves as he rants off the long list of his newly growing personas:  “avenging angel, Judas Iscariot, loving husband, prodigal son, prince of Denmark, trumpet player, speed freak.” You can see why even he has a hard time knowing what he has become. Is he the noble husband out for revenge or have the habits of his alter ego taken him to a place he can never escape. Can they be one in the same? Can a tweaker be a hero?

This back and forth can also be felt in the film itself. At it’s heart it’s a Neo-Noir or Film-Noir depending on what trendy film website you read, but it’s the speed or in this case the Gack that set The Salton Sea apart from all these other films. In the vein of Trainspotting, director DJ Caruso is given the ability to make the film larger than life to the point where throwing a short in the middle feels warranted  and becomes one of the film’s major high lights. “Kujo’s Big Heist” as it’s so subtlety titled in large marquee lettering, brings the story of a heist into the world of meth. This short segment of hilarity gives Caruso the chance to inject life into Danny’s cracked out friends. The only thing that could make this segment better would be if they were trying to steal Bob Hope’s stool sample, oh wait they are! Taking risks like this are what make the film so special, the way Danny’s world is shown is nothing more than visually stunning and though Caruso knocked the style and feel of The Salton Sea out of the park, it’s the cast that brings the film it’s true heart.

We have some heavy hitters in this tale of revenge and yes Val Kilmer and Vincent D’onofio are the defiant standouts, but it’s the smaller rolls that make the movie for me. Characters like Bobby “Ocean” played by Glenn Plummer, a cracked out meth dealer that sees plastic people, keeps his women under the mattress and a shotgun behind the dresser are what make the film. The guy has “the vocational skills” and he can be rude at times but apologizes for being the self-described “ocean” so you can’t blame him for that. I’m sorry I get a little quote happy with this film, but that’s what makes it great. The fact that you can talk about your individual favorite scenes with those who have seen it and suddenly be swept into a quote frenzy. If you watch the film for nothing else than it’s over the top character depictions I guarantee you will go home happy. Especially when it comes to the performance of Vincent D’onofio (Ed Wood, The Cell) as Pooh-Bear a nick name he developed due to the loss of his nose to the over use of snort-able substances. This lacking appendage only adds to what Vincent can do with the character. With high pitch squeals through a plastic nose, Pooh-Bear commands tension. Pooh-Bear is as freakishly grimy as they come and D’onofio doesn’t even bother trying to turn him into a likable character and leaves him as evil as possible only further adding to the dark tone of the film.

Alongside D’onofio, Val Kilmer performs remarkably as the film’s jaded hero. He never places Danny or Tom in a light that forces the film to make the audience’s ultimate decision about the character’s actions. With out this the movie would have slipped right back in the pile of mediocre films. It’s was Kilmer’s ability to play both sides equally and honestly that sets this role and film apart form it’s drugged out counterparts of the 90’s. Danny/Tom along with his performances in Heat and the lesser known Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which will make the ranks of LIF soon) are what make Kilmer one of my favorite actors.

The Salton Sea has it all: great acting, visuals, and story. There is something for everyone in the film’s intricate web. I don’t exactly remember how I found this gem of a film but I do remember all the fun times I’ve had watching it with friends and that is what I think movies are for, to geek out with a couple of buddies. So go seek out this film and let me know what you thought and until next time remember, “A nuclear blast is just a minor nuisance to a determined tweaker.”

If you have any movie suggestions for “Lost In Found” please email them to Ryan[at]lostinreviews.com

By Ryan Davis

About Ryan Davis

Ryan is the Founder of Lost in Reviews, a member of The Kansas City Film Critic's Circle, and a key component in the movement to digitally restore the 1986 classic film The Gate. Ryan is also the co-host of Blu Monday a DVD and Blu Ray review show which Lost in Reviews co-founder Angela Davis also appears. While he may be a film and music snob, that doesn't mean you can't be friends. Well it could if you don't like the same bands or films he does, overall it might be best to avoid the subject all together.

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