MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Crime Thriller/ Stars: Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Carrie Snodgress, Jeff Perry, Robert Wagner, Bill Murray, Marc Macaulay, Cory Pendergast, Paulo Benedeti, Eduardo Yáñez, Jennifer Taylor/Runtime: 108 minutes
I think it is safe to say that if there was one thing I secretly find myself wishing for whenever I sit down to watch a movie it would be for that distinct slice of cinematic pie to somehow find a way to surprise me. I mean to heck at this point whether it’s a good surprise, bad surprise, or even one that’s middle of the road. Just surprise me. Thankfully, I can say that the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today was a movie that managed to do just that. Even better though is that the surprises and twists it has in store are actually good (looking at you as I write this M. Night Shyamalan because we both know the twist in The Happening is still just as stupid as ever). Jokes aside, I must admit that at first blush the 1998 crime thriller Wild Things might look like something you’ve seen before since in many respects it does give off the impression that it is nothing more than one of those unoriginal sleaze flicks that you might see pop up at any time on any number of late night pay per view channels. Yet if you’re willing to give this close to 2 hour swamp ride a chance, I promise you will find a genuine under the radar gem. Indeed operating more like a 90s throwback to film noirs of the 50s as opposed to a skin flick on Showtime After Dark and equipped with stylish work done on both sides of the camera, Wild Things really truly is a delightfully slimy and scummy film to behold and one that I promise is most assuredly worth at the very least a single viewing.
The plot is as follows: Welcome to a locale known as Blue Bay in the state of Florida. A seemingly otherworldly rich dish city that seems like it came out of the mind of God if at one point in time God was moonlighting as a scriptwriter working in 1950s Hollywood on a film noir in the vein of Key Largo, Blue Bay is a place where money and status are everything and everyone is either a desperate sleazebag or a villainous vixen out to stab you in the back all while the nearby Everglades offer up a hint of ominous and foreboding danger. It’s also the world where we are introduced to our movie’s quasi-sorta main character Sam Lombardo. Mr. Lombardo is a man who, among other things about him, is the much-loved and respected guidance counselor at the local high school and who is known for, to put it mildly, having a way with the ladies. Unfortunately our Casanova soon sees his philandering ways get the best of him when he decides to reject a quite forward in her pursuit of him student by the name of Kelly Van Ryan who decides to, with zero hesitation on her part, retaliate by accusing him of taking advantage of her. A sticky situation because not only did Sam once have a fling with Kelly’s mom Sandra, but her family is also one of if not the wealthiest family in the city. Of course if this wasn’t enough we soon see that another high school girl in the form of a white trash girl living in the nearby swamps by the name of Suzie Toller decides to come forward and also accuse Sam of raping her. Thus when you also factor into this hairy situation a cynical and dogged detective by the name of Ray Duquette, Sam’s delightfully scummy attorney Ken Bowden, and a few other unsavory characters one thing becomes quite clear: in a town like Blue Bay not only are there schemes a’plenty, but there’s not much in the way of morals and the only thing worth knowing is that no one can ever truly be trusted and that no one and I mean no one is who they appear to be….
Now there are a pair of ingredients that do an amazing job of taking this distinct slice of cinematic pie and raising it above the level of been there, done that material you most assuredly will see if you stay up really late and watch Showtime After Dark or something to that effect. These ingredients would be not only the phenomenal cast that they somehow managed to rope into this movie, but in how stylish and well-executed this slice of cinematic pie really is. In regards to the latter, it should be said that film helmer James McNaughton does a wonderful job of lathering on the swampy mood so well that you would not be surprised if you started sweating a little bit yourself due to all the humidity all but dripping off the screen. To that end, we also see that whilst borrowing more than a few key elements from both the scorching 1981 noir Body Heat as well as legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s 1991 take on Cape Fear, this film’s helmer is able to show that he is immensely talented at blending together both designs and nuances in order to conjure up a slice of cinematic pie that is simultaneously a throwback whilst also present day in every sense of the word. Thus this slice of cinematic pie might have quite a bit in terms of raunchy language and sexual situations that help to establish it as a movie from the 90s, but a lot of the attire, locales, and production design would definitely be right at home in some of the old school noirs from the 50s. Not only that, but like some of the finest film noirs out there with particular regard to The Usual Suspects from 1995 this slice of cinematic pie is also saddled with not one, not two, but at least several incredibly well done twists as the film goes along that are not only jaw-dropping in the best way possible, but that also will make you as soon as the movie is done want to go back and watch it again and see you if you can spot the little hints and clues toward these distinct twists that are scattered throughout the rather ingenuous narrative.
Now brilliant work in regards to the distinct style that this slice of cinematic pie is working with behind the camera aside, I am also convinced that this movie would not work nearly as well as it does if it didn’t have the talented cast that it does playing this delightfully seedy and trashy narrative out for our viewing pleasure. Best of all though is the fact that each person involved seems to be having an absolute blast with this material to the extent that there truly is a uniquely twisted enjoyment factor to be found in witnessing these clearly talented performers operating with a depraved level of material that has managed to find a way to somehow infiltrate a mainstream Hollywood film. This starts with Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon who are at their absolute best in terms of being equal parts slimy and smarmy as Sam Lombardo and Duquette respectively and extends all the way to Neve Campbell who as Suzie Toller does amazing work with her part and even to smaller roles played by gifted performers Theresa Russell and Robert Wagner who do a terrific job at bringing their own wonderful amounts of depravity to the proceedings. Also it might be seen as the cinematic equivalent of saying that Paris Hilton was ever at one time a gifted singer, but this movie is easily the best work that we ever have gotten from Denise Richards (and that is taking into account both her work on Starship Troopers as well as her time as one of the worst cast Bond girls ever in The World is Not Enough from 1999). Indeed she is such a wonderful mix of flirtatious and venomous in this slice of cinematic pie that it isn’t hard to understand how the world of movie magic saw as her being someone who had that star quality to her at one time. Out of everyone in the cast though, there is one person who I think deserves special mention and that is iconic actor Bill Murray as Sam’s unscrupulous defense attorney Kenneth Bowden. Indeed he might only have 20-30 minutes of screen time tops, but Murray makes single every minute of it count and gives a wonderfully slimy yet laidback and good natured performance that is easily a highlight of not just the cast, but the whole movie as well.
All in all as a slice of cinematic pie, Wild Things managed to do the one thing that a lot of other movies nowadays are sadly just unable to do. That of course would be the fact that it was able to completely and utterly surprise the heck out of me. Indeed here is what could easily have been a sleaze flick on late night pay per view (and more often than not is) and instead finds itself transformed, courtesy of stylish and talented work on both sides of the camera, into an intriguing 90s cinema ode to the film noirs of yesteryear. Sure it has quite a few modern touches, and sure it does get more than its fair share of convoluted. Yet even when taking those factors into consideration though, Wild Things works as an enjoyably sleazy and twisty 2-hour voyage through a swampy bayou that is wonderfully filled to the brim with some of the most despicable and amoral characters you’ll ever cross paths with this side of a Tarantino film. On a scale of 1-5 I give Wild Things “98” a solid 3.5 out of 5.
Again this is normally where the trailer would be, but this is one movie where I definitely must stress this: DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILER. Watching the trailer will definitely hinder your potential level of enjoying this movie. Just giving you a heads-up movie goer. Thanks again movie goers and I’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag