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‘Wonderland’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 03, 1989

The subject of Philip Saville's "Wonderland" is the relationship between two 17-year-old boys in Liverpool. Both are working-class and both are gay, but there the similarities end.

Baby-fat soft, with peroxided curls, Eddie (Emile Charles) whiles away the hours watching old movies and reminiscing with his mother about days long ago, before she became fat and lost her knockout looks.

Michael (Tony Forsyth), on the other hand, is a punk, with very few illusions about sex in particular and life in general.

The relationship between the two boys is simultaneously idealized and amorphous. (The movie is too.) They seem to be merely pals who enjoy a night out at the video arcade or the Fruit Machine, a transvestite club run by a hugely obese man by the name of Annabelle who dresses in what look like castoffs from Little Orphan Annie. One night, while lingering after hours, the boys witness an encounter between Annabelle and Echo (Bruce Payne), a hit man sent to deal with the club owner's refusal to make his protection payments.

This, and the treatment Eddie receives from his father at home, cause them to run away to Brighton to the home of an opera singer named Vincent (Robert Stephens) and his manager, Eve (Clare Higgins). In order to protect himself and his friend, Michael allows himself to be used in whatever manner his hosts demand, while Eddie, who has tender fantasies of a mysterious dolphin lover, checks out the real dolphins at a nearby aquatic park.

"Wonderland" is loaded with incidents and encounters that never add up. Eddie, who is appalled by the exploitation of the sea creatures, feels a deep affinity for them -- they're just like him, he says, trapped, mistreated, and he longs to set them free. Saville and his screenwriter Franke Clarke take an overprecious view of Eddie's sexuality in this part of the film. They want to give it a mystical dimension, and when they present us with dreamy shots of Eddie and his dolphin dreamboat swimming amorously around in the show tank, the picture comes dangerously close to turning into a gay "Field of Dreams."

Not a great deal of a common sense has been expended here. After Eddie is stabbed by the hit man, instead of rushing him to the hospital, Michael rushes off to free the dolphin. This kind of thing makes it hard to participate in epiphanies.

"Wonderland" contains some suggestive material and nudity.

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