The Salton Sea


The Salton Sea

Critics Consensus

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



Total Count: 84


Audience Score

User Ratings: 21,327
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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.


Critic Reviews for The Salton Sea

All Critics (84) | Top Critics (26) | Fresh (53) | Rotten (31)

  • 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.

    Aug 23, 2002 | Rating: A-
  • Sacrificing content for style, Caruso gives us a lot to look at but little to ponder.

    Jul 20, 2002 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jul 12, 2002 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • If there's no art here, it's still a good yarn -- which is nothing to sneeze at these days.

    Jul 12, 2002 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

    Sam Allis

    Boston Globe
    Top Critic
  • A thriller with an edge -- which is to say that it doesn't follow the stale, standard, connect-the-dots storyline which has become commonplace in movies that explore the seamy underbelly of the criminal world.

    May 21, 2002 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Lovable absurdity is the saving grace of a drug movie, and on the rare occasion that this genre works, the head trip winds up being a worthwhile journey.

    May 17, 2002 | Rating: 2.5/5

Audience Reviews for The Salton Sea

  • Dec 01, 2012
    The Salton Sea offers a familiar base story, but with a very unconventional sense of style and dramatic flourish. At it's heart, it's about a broken man dealing with the trauma of his wife's murder (not exactly unheard of), couched in a neo-noir setting filled with drugs and decadence. The world building of Salton Sea is undoubtedly it's great attribute, the film does a great job of depicting a subculture, and is especially skilled at promoting authentic relationships by its characters. This is helped by the strong performances from the cast, with Peter Sarsgaard turning in an amazing supporting performance, and even Val Kilmer doing some good work (albeit in his classic dejected way). The script is strong at points, and weak at others. I enjoyed a lot of the dialogue exchanges, but the plot twists seemed ill set-up and not well written toward the later half of the film. The climax and last act is especially disappointing, losing a lot of the built up realism, and opting for something more cliched, while also implausible. Technically, Salton Sea has great cinematography, and keeps a fairly good balance between it's stylistic touches and keeping it grounded, with only a few of the unconventional narrative devices feeling "gimmicky". Despite some weaknesses toward the end, Salton Sea is a solid dramatic neo-noir film, with indie sensibilities that are executed well on a technical level, making it worth watching. 3.5/5 Stars
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer
  • Jul 08, 2012
    modern noir film set in the seedy life style of drugs & jazz. The end result is far from a masterpiece but a film this interesting is very hard to turn away. Val Kilmer is likable in the lead and plays a character disassociated with himself caught in the drug world or so you think. there is much more to this film then a simple drugs & dealers story
    Brendan N Super Reviewer
  • Jan 29, 2012
    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").
    William D Super Reviewer
  • Sep 06, 2011
    <b>Re-Review 06.09.2011</b> <a href=""><i><b>TRAILER</b></i></a> <a href=""><i><b>IMDB</b></i></a> I still remember watching this for the very first time, i was younger and i was shocked at the world i've seen in this incredible film. A world revolving around drug addicts and thugs that live their life one dosage at a time. Watching this now however is a totally different story. Val Kilmer's outstanding performance lets you feel the depth of his character, the suffering and pain, but in the mean time a minor glympse of hope. But still it's mostly a quirky little film noir with strange moody tales of revenge, murder, drugs, insanity,freaks, losers, sex...the works, and one good guy. It is both an excruciating and mesmerizing drama with a bitter taste but a damn nice script. What The Salton Sea does differently to other drug movies (like Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream) is subtly weave a thriller plot into the midst of its portrayal of meth addicts. The plot doesn't take centre-stage until the final third of the film, when Tom's true motives for becoming Danny finally come to light. (whoops said to much already). The twist that signals the beginning of the end is a fairly unpredictable one. When you actually come to the realisation that there is a twist, it seems all the stranger because it belongs to a plot that is not immediately obvious on a first viewing. Even on repeat viewings, you find it hard to see coming due to the subtlety of the plot that the twist relates to (you still with me here?). To end already...The Salton Sea manages to be a decent enough movie, borrowing from the Column A of drug movies and the Column B of neo-noir without ever leaving the feeling that it tries too hard. Enjoy! Peace!
    Ovi G Super Reviewer

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