Created in the early part of the 20th century by an overflowing Colorado River and a monumental engineering snafu, the Salton Sea is America's freakiest body of water this side of Elvis's bloated corpse. The documentary Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea splits its focus between the sea's history, inhabitants, and ongoing ecological legacy. The history is fascinating—the basic facts of the sea's creation and evolution are enough to power a good, strong hour-long doc. But the characters who call the region home—a motley mishmash of sun-wizened dreamers, Hungarian drunks, old nudists, and welfare families—aren't nearly as interesting, and the John Waters–supplied narration overplays the kookiness considerably. In the home stretch, the film comes out swinging as a call to ecological action, a mildly klutzy turnabout that captures the Salton Sea's legacy of loserdom perfectly. In this age of impending ecodisaster and inconvenient truths, who can get too worked up over alkaline dust flats with the potential to stink up Palm Springs?
Also out this week: Knocked Up (Universal, $30.98 for the two-disc collector's edition), Black Book (Sony, $29.95), Tekkon Kinkreet (Sony, $26.96), The Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection (Warner, $59.92).