The Salton Sea (2002) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Salton Sea (2002)



Critic Consensus: A slick Tarantino-inspired movie that is not for everyone.

Movie Info

The feature film debut of producer and TV director D.J. Caruso, this pulpy noir mystery is a dark tale of redemption set among southern California crystal methamphetamine "tweakers." Val Kilmer stars as Danny Parker, a former trumpet player who has become a tattooed speed freak living in a cesspool of murderous dealers and hardcore addicts near the desert lake of the title. Danny's fall from grace is the result of a hidden agenda, however -- he's seeking answers about the murder of his beloved wife. He's also working undercover for a pair of brutal narcotics cops (Anthony Lapaglia and Doug Hutchison), while trying to rescue his beautiful neighbor Colette (Deborah Kara Unger) from an abusive situation and her own demons. As he and his slacker buddy Jimmy the Fin (Peter Sarsgaard) are antagonized by the sadistic, noseless dealer Pooh Bear (Vincent D'Onofrio) and his henchman, Danny draws closer to the truth about his wife's death, but the crime's solution isn't quite what he expected. Produced by Frank Darabont, The Salton Sea co-stars Adam Goldberg, Meat Loaf, Luis Guzman, and Azura Skye.more
Rating: R (drug Content and Language)
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By: Tony Gayton
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 10, 2002
Box Office: $0.6M
Warner Bros. - Official Site


Val Kilmer
as Danny/Tom
Peter Sarsgaard
as Jimmy the Finn
B.D. Wong
as Bubba
Josh Todd
as Big Bill
Danny Trejo
as Little Bill
R. Lee Ermey
as Verne Plummer
Shirley Knight
as Nancy Plummer
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Salton Sea

Critic Reviews for The Salton Sea

All Critics (90) | Top Critics (28)

Repellent yet intriguing, brutal yet funny, wicked yet strangely compassionate, The Salton Sea is more about mixing genres and styles than illuminating a credible reality.

Full Review… | August 23, 2002
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic

Sacrificing content for style, Caruso gives us a lot to look at but little to ponder.

Full Review… | July 20, 2002
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

For what it is, it's well-done -- a stylized-beyond-reality derivation of Natural Born Killers, perhaps. Or a more gonzo version of Go or Blow. But the heart has been stylized out of it.

Full Review… | July 12, 2002
Denver Post
Top Critic

If there's no art here, it's still a good yarn -- which is nothing to sneeze at these days.

Full Review… | July 12, 2002
Boston Globe
Top Critic

The overall voyage on The Salton Sea is an uneasy one hampered by a confusing story that admits out loud it doesn't know where it's going.

Full Review… | December 17, 2010


Full Review… | January 7, 2004

Audience Reviews for The Salton Sea

Frank Darabont, can you do no wrong? As for you, Mr. Caruso, why'd you stop making good movies after this? Also, Spun, why did you steal so many camera techniques from this movie?


Super Reviewer


Fans of "Drive," take note: A small movie from 2002 that got far less attention than it deserved, "The Salton Sea," starring Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Peter Sarsgaard, is a moody, gritty neo-noir worthy of comparison to "Drive." It's nowhere near as good as "Drive," but it's pretty darn good, with a haunting, brooding performance from Kilmer that will stay with you and a scary performance from D'Onofrio that reminded me of Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet."

Like "Drive," this film has a lot of toughness and violence, but also an immense amount of heart -- and some moments of dazzling, jazzy style.

Summarizing the plot runs the risk of spoiling the many surprises that the story contains. So I'll just say that the main character (Kilmer) is a loving, easy-going jazz musician who stumbles into a den of vipers and has to find the wherewithal to defend himself against their depredations. It's a rare treat to find a thriller (or any movie, really) built around a protagonist who's a musician.

The weaknesses lie in the film's editing. It's just a bit too languid too often. Also, the central tragedy at the center of the plot is presented in a gauzy, sentimental way, giving this dark film an almost sugary center. This central tragedy also struck me as too much like a hackneyed plot device. It just felt a bit too conventional.

But "Salton Sea" is definitely worth your time and deserves something of a cult following. I keep hearing D'Onofrio's meth-fueled pig sounds somewhere in my head. I can't make it stop. I also keep hearing the sound of the beautiful jazz trumpet that the main character plays as his home burns around him. Bravo to the whole cast and to director D.J. Caruso ("Taking Lives," "Disturbia").

Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

Really great. The plot is really smart, just when you think you know what's going on, it flips around completely. Val Kilmer was amazing, I haven't seen him give a performance like this since his Jim Morrison. DJ Caruso is great at giving these really personal stories that, under someone else's hands, might come off as corny. He makes his films have a true sense of meaning, as well as a decent amount of fun.

Conner Rainwater

Super Reviewer

The Salton Sea Quotes

Danny Parker: For the people who don't do drugs, or just do them occasionally, it's something that becomes your life, and you belong. You finally hit bottom and you know who you are, because you can't go any lower. When you find... a friendship that you wouldn't have found anywhere else. Still and all, there's a kind of intimacy with those that can go the distance. Sometimes you see the world so clearly... and you know just what to do, and just when to do it. Just what you should've done, and when you should've done it.
– Submitted by Summer S (2 years ago)

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