Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Wild Things (1998) [R] ***
A film review by James Berardinelli.
Wild Things is a way to steam up an otherwise dreary early spring day… provided, of course, that you’re the victim of a frontal lobotomy. There is, in fact, no doubt about who this motion picture is aimed at: movie-goers in their late teens and early twenties -- the most lucrative target group. This is film noir for the MTV generation: fast-paced, slick, flashy, gleefully mindless, and hollow to the core. Wild Things is easily one of the five dumbest movies to arrive in theaters during the first eleven weeks of 1998. I’ve seen more convincing drama (with nearly as much bare flesh) on that pinnacle of narrative quality, Baywatch.
Wild Things wants to dupe viewers into thinking it’s a thriller with a real story. What it is, however, is a series of increasingly-improbable and shockingly predictable plot twists. Everything in between those serpentine moments is filler -- a flash of a breast, a spatter of blood, and some of the most idiotic dialogue this side of a Steven Seagal movie. The film tries so hard to surprise its audience that the twists end up being easy to guess -- just take a stab at the most unlikely thing to happen, and that will probably be it. Using this approach, I was right three times and wrong only once. That’s not a good average for a production that wants to keep viewers in the dark about what’s around the next corner.
The ad campaign uses two things to sell this movie: the hot, young cast and the old standby, sex. Both have an abundance of screen time, although I’ll admit that the film’s erotic content is somewhat less impressive than I expected. Nothing about Wild Things is exceptionally risqué. The soft-core sex sequences are generic, and don’t generate much heat. The lesbian kisses can’t hold a candle to those in Bound. Theresa Russell and Denise Richards have only token topless appearances (Neve Campbell, possessing an iron-clad no nudity clause in her contract, keeps her clothes more or less on). The film’s greatest curiosity is a full frontal shot of Kevin Bacon climbing out of the shower. Maybe a few girls will skip seeing a fully-clothed Leonardo DiCaprio for the thirteenth time in Titanic to catch a glimpse of what Kyra Sedgwick (Mrs. Kevin Bacon) is familiar with.
The director of Wild Things is John McNaughton, whose last effort was the finely-tuned psychological thriller, Normal Life. That movie featured copious sex, a pair of real characters, and a powerful script. It’s difficult to believe that something this shallow could come from the same film maker. But I suppose we all need to put food on the table. McNaughton appears to have completely lost his way here, in what is obviously a stab at mainstream success (his previous wide-release picture, Mad Dog and Glory, was a box-office disappointment). Quick cuts and pretty sunrises can’t even begin to cover up this movie’s flaws.
The main character (and I use that term lightly, since no one in Wild Things shows more than an occasional flash of personality) is Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon), a guidance counselor at Florida’s Blue Bay High School. A student, the deliciously curvaceous Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards), has a crush on him. One afternoon, she comes to his house to wash his car, and, when she leaves, her clothing is torn. After confessing to her mother (Theresa Russell) that she was raped, she goes to the police station, where she tells her story to detectives Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) and Gloria Perez (Daphne Rubin-Vega). They are skeptical about here claims until another girl, Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell), comes forward with a similar tale. Meanwhile, Sam, convinced that he’s being set up, goes to a shyster lawyer (Bill Murray) for help.
The acting in Wild Things isn’t very good, but none of the principals have much to work with. This is definitely not a character-based motion picture. Not only does the ludicrous screenplay ignore the possibility that someone in the audience may have a triple-digit I.Q., but it doesn’t bother to give any of the on-screen individuals even a hint of depth. The men and women populating the picture are there to look nice, but nothing more. Matt Dillon is given plenty of opportunities to flex his biceps. Neve Campbell gets to model the slutty look. Denise Richards strikes a fetching pose in a see-through, one-piece bathing suit. And nothing in the film gets a rise out of Kevin Bacon. The only one who’s even remotely interesting is Bill Murray, and he seems to think he’s in comedy, not a thriller (maybe he’s got the right idea).
Columbia Pictures has specifically requested that critics not reveal the film’s ending, which prompts the question: which ending do they want kept secret? Wild Things has no less than three (one occurs during the end credits, so stay seated), all of which are jaw-droppingly absurd -- a feat that Joe Eszterhas (the writer of Basic Instinct and Showgirls) would be impressed by. Thanks to Jeffrey Kimball’s polished, kinetic cinematography, Wild Things always looks great, and George S. Clinton’s score keeps it pulsing and throbbing. But, no matter how shiny the superficial sheen is, this is still trash, and, like all garbage, it stinks.
Labels: crime, high school, mystery, teenager, thriller