The Salton Sea

on April 26, 2002 by Tim Cogshell
   The Salton Sea is a remote region in the Southern California desert between Los Angeles and outlying communities like Palmdale and Bakersfield. Isolated by its empty expanse, it's a place where unsavory types set up meth labs in trailers and run-down ranches where a mix of stinky chemicals, cough medicines and Drano is prepared for the tweakers and crankheads who twitch their lives and brain cells into oblivion. Val Kilmer is Danny Parker, a man who has suffered one of those horrible life-altering tragedies of the sort found in the best noir of the late '40s. It's the kind of event that reconstructs a person's character, transforming a mild-mannered jazz trumpeter into a tattooed, spike-haired speed freak. Danny is on a path of revenge and redemption.

   The story unfolds in "Memento"-like fashion, beginning at the end and skipping about until it works itself back to the end again. Doug Hutchison ("The Green Mile") and Anthony LaPaglia ("Lantana") are cops who use Danny as a snitch, but he is not in their midst by accident. Vincent D'Onofrio ("Happy Accidents") is a noseless meth-baron who tells nasty stories of his depraved acts. Oddly, he's one of the more likable characters. There are the assorted addicts played by several exceptional character actors: Kujo (Adam Goldberg), Bobby (Glenn Plummer) and Jimmy The Finn (Peter Sarsgaard).

   "The Salton Sea" could very easily--and indeed does--tread on several clichés of contemporary noir: quirky characters and an overwrought sense of angst. Yet it rises well above the mundane. It's a sharp movie about otherwise dull subjects: crooked cops, sadistic drug dealers, femme fatales, guns and justice.    Starring Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Goldberg and Deborah Kara Unger. Directed by D.J. Caruso. Written by Tony Gayton. Produced by Frank Darabont, Eriq La Salle, Ken Aguado and Butch Robinson. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence, drug use, language and some sexuality. Running time: 103 min.

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