The Steam Experiment is where a fat Val Kilmer plays a loopy college professor genius who has locked six people in a steam room because of global warming. Why? It’s an experiment, you see, to determine what will happen to humanity when the Mayan Calendar is proven in 2012 and the apocalypse will turn ordinary people into panicky idiots. It’s also a hostage situation with Kilmer imploring a local newspaper to publish his cockamamie theories about global warming or the six people who were lured into the steam room by Kilmer posing as an online dating service will all die from the rising temperature of the steam room. Basically The Steam Experiment is Saw but with semi-nude hostages and Val Kilmer hamming it up like Jim Morrison in a turtleneck sweater. So, it’s clearly better than Saw.
Talk about exposition: the film’s first act is basically a lot of characters repeating the details of the high-concept plot to each other. Kilmer tells the local news editor about his nefarious plan, then the local news editor tells detective Armand Assante about Kilmer’s nefarious plan, then Assante asks Kilmer to explain his nefarious plan, Kilmer than explains his nefarious plan to Assante, and then Assante asks Kilmer, “Let me get this straight: you’ve got six people locked in a steam room... because of global warming.” (Hey, why not repeat the plot ad nausem, it was the reason why I rented this Direct-to-DVD movie alongside Val Kilmer's expansive face on the cover) All the while, Kilmer plays the mad professor as a coy intellectual who is able to notice that the local news editor’s clock is five minutes fast and utters pithy, pseudo-philosophical lines like “If you want to play trivial pursuit, it’s on your head” and “We’re a nation of sheep.”
Even though Kilmer is top-billed, I think he only had three days of shooting on this project since he is only in it for approximately thirty minutes of screen-time. We have some surreal images of him at the start standing in front of a carousel at night, which I guess is supposed to signify how "nutty" he is and what a "thrill-ride" this movie will be. Then there are close-ups of his fat face with a thousand yard stare. The best stuff though is Kilmer being interrogated with Assante who basically mumbles his dialogue through his flappy-lips, the lower-class man of the streets up against the intellectual master-mind. Yes, there are lots of bits where Kilmer psyches out Assante by asking him questions like “Have you ever been to Italy, detective?” or commenting on his cheap cologne and insulting him in a high and haughty manner, “Your vulgarity is pathetic! It annoys me!” We also see Kilmer turning the tables on the ‘bad-cop routine’ by slamming his own forehead against the interrogation table and then takes everyone out to acting school with his performance of crazy with twitchy eyes and rambling about his father (About his controversial theories on global warming, “I could take the humiliation but he couldn’t...”), bugging out like nobody’s business. With such scenes, one can glimpse the mannered charm of Kilmer adding a bit of business to a dumb role and proving Chuck Klosterman’s pronouncement of Kilmer as an example of “advancement” – that is that Kilmer as a performer is so advanced that we might not understand his acting genius in such trash for years to come.
The majority of the movie takes place in the steam room with the hostages who includes Eric Roberts with a wavering Southern accent, Melrose Place’s Patrick Muldoon, a neurotic brunette, a neurotic blonde, a slutty waitress type who takes her top off in an extended slow-mo sequence to ‘Bolero,’ and then this Matt Dillion lookalike who plays the most over-the-top Italian-stereotype you could think of with scenery-chewing dialogue like “I’m from Booklyn, born and bred...” and “I love everybody, you know what I mean, forget about it!” (Naturally he’s the first one to crack and go kill-crazy in the steam room). Tensions escalate as the director desaturates the visuals with an orange lens flare and people start turning against each other – a stabbing here, a few nails to the forehead there, a suicide and a death match. The result of all this huffing and puffing is that we find out that Kilmer is actually a mental patient and all of this was possibly a fabrication in his twisted mind. TWIST! That would be too easy though. Big spoiler alert (as if you care): Patrick Muldoon is actually Kilmer’s doctor! Muldoon and his wife (the neurotic blonde hostage) actually volunteered for this experiment, which actually happened and Muldoon found that he and his blonde wife surviving the steam room was a profound life-changing experience (you know, like Fight Club but in a Steam Room... Steam Club). TWIST TIMES TWO! Final scene has the blonde wife standing by Muldoon’s study and discussing Kilmer:
“You don’t control him anymore. He controls you. Kill him and come home.”
Muldoon turns off his lamp very slowly. Ominous music. The End. Hmmm... What the hell? Way to blow my mind, movie. If I wanted to waste more of my time, I could extrapolate all the plot-holes from this last-minute development, but ah, much like the Average Joe’s response to global warming, I’ll leave it there as an impending problem that I won’t think about until I have to. Instead, I’ll stick to the basic pleasures that this movie offers – a fleeting glance of some boobs and a fat-faced hambone Val Kilmer. Hey, the movie even puts them in the same frame together!