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The Salton Sea

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The Salton Sea

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The Salton Sea opens with a breathless history of speed, from its origins as the drug of choice for WWII-era Japanese soldiers to the meth labs of today. It also addresses the drug's unfortunate side effects, among which it should have included itself. A grimy mess set among L.A.'s speed-abusing "tweakers," Salton has neither the substance to justify first-time feature director D.J. Caruso's pretentious flourishes, nor the skill to make those flourishes work on their own terms. What it does have is Val Kilmer looking like a hollowed-out Kurt Russell, sporting nearly as many tattoos as Guy Pearce in Memento, and, like Pearce, plotting revenge. But where Memento followed its protagonist's quest down a never-ending spiral of loneliness, Caruso's film views it as an excuse to let rip with gunplay and bootleg David Lynch weirdness. After Kilmer's wife is killed by ski-mask-clad speed dealers while vacationing at the eponymous Southern California locale, he decides to infiltrate the tweaker world from the bottom up, befriending area speed freaks while developing a taste for their drug of choice. The strategy, however clumsy, appears to have begun paying off, thanks to Kilmer's side job as a police informant. Eventually, he ascends the ladder of tweak until he meets Vincent D'Onofrio, whose performance as a noseless desert drug lord named Pooh Bear might politely be described as "colorful": The character is fond of staging reenactments of the Kennedy assassination using costumed pigeons, toy cars, and live ammo. A veteran TV director, Caruso overloads the film with seemingly every good stylistic idea he's ever had, and quite a few bad ones. The result is as disjointed as its lead character's identity, a film that pauses one moment to allow a fully tweaked Adam Goldberg to describe a madcap heist of Bob Hope's stool sample (which makes an unfortunate cameo appearance), and waxes lyrical over Kilmer's lost love the next.