Screenplay : Stephen Peters
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Kevin Bacon (Ray Duquette), Matt Dillon (Sam Lombardo), Neve Campbell (Suzie Toller), Denise Richards (Kelly Van Ryan), Theresa Russell (Sandra Van Ryan), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Gloria Perez), Carrie Snodgress (Ruby), Jeff Perry (Bryce Hunter), Robert Wagner (Tom Baxter), Bill Murray (Ken Bowden)
Making good sleaze is more difficult than you would expect, and "Wild Things" is one of the best sleaze movies to come out since "Basic Instinct."
Director John McNaughton, who first came on the scene in 1989 when he stunned audiences with his ultra-low budget shocker "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," lets "Wild Things" be exactly what it should be: a twisting, luridly depraved Southern noir tale of sex, scandal, and devious plotting. It doesn't make the "Showgirls" mistake of taking itself too seriously, but neither does it take the John Waters route of sinking into complete camp. The movie resides somewhere in the middle, making it amusing, shocking, erotic, and inarguably absorbing, all at the same time.
Because plot secrets are so important to making "Wild Things" an enjoyable experience, I will only reveal what happens during the first half-hour.
Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) is a handsome high school guidance counselor in the small, rich community of Blue Bay, Florida (the town's name itself seems to drip of sex). Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards), a beautiful high school seductress with thick lips and a thoroughly aerobicized body, has had her eye on Lombardo for several years. Kelly is the daughter of Sandra Van Ryan (Theresa Russell), an elitist rich slut who has her own past with Lombardo. Kelly's father, a real estate tycoon, had committed suicide a year earlier, leaving Kelly and Sandra living in the lap of luxury.
One day, Kelly comes over to Lombardo's house to wash his car for a community service project. She and girlfriend flirt shamelessly outside by spraying each other with hoses, all of which is filmed by McNaughton like a "Playboy" video. Kelly comes into Lombardo's house, dripping wet, with that look in her eye. The screen fades to black, and when we next see her, she is walking out of Lombardo's house, looking somewhat disheveled and very perturbed. What happened in there?
Kelly answers that question by accusing Lombardo of rape. Police detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) and his partner, Gloria Perez (Daphne Rubin-Vega) begin to look into the case, but they have suspicions that Kelly is fabricating the story. That is, until Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell), a another senior at Blue Bay High who happens to be from the wrong side of the tracks, accuses Lombardo of raping her a year earlier. It seems to be a closed case, because the stories Kelly and Suzie tell are extremely similar, and it has already been established that they are enemies at school, so they couldn't have conspired together.
Or could they have?
The case goes to court, with Bill Murray in an amusing supporting role as Lombardo's cut-rate attorney. Things go hay-wire at the trial, and from there "Wild Things" spins down a spiral of deceit, murder, and double- and triple-crosses of all parties involved. By the time it is arriving at its conclusion, we don't know who or what to trust anymore because we've been so thoroughly spun around. "Wild Things" is the kind of movie where the question isn't who's innocent and who's guilty, but who's guilty of what. It gets so complicated that McNaughton includes bit scenes during the credits that flesh out the explanation of how it all transpired.
The screenplay, by Stephen Peters, is tightly written and offers more surprises that three other movies put together. Because the script has no shame and no pretensions, McNaughton is free to take the material to its limits. A script like this deserves the full treatment, and McNaughton comes through; any time he has the chance to be overtly sexual or leeringly sensationalistic, like Paul Verhoeven before him, he goes for it. And who can blame him? The story is screaming out for it (when co-producer and star Bacon first read it, he described as "the trashiest piece of crap" he had ever read). "Wild Things" isn't asking to be legitimized; it's just good old-fashioned, nasty fun.
The A-list cast in both main and supporting roles gives "Wild Things" a little more stamina than a straight-to-video release with a group of no-names (although the material is roughly the same). Dillon, although a little too sexy and handsome to be taken for a high school counselor, is nonetheless effective in his role. Our sympathies are with him from the outset, and it is exactly those emotions that come into play later.
Richards, who had previously been seen battling giant bugs in "Starship Troopers," proves here that she is an actress of decidedly limited range. I would be surprised to see her career reach great heights. However, she can act thoroughly sultry and seductive without losing the appearance that she is a 17-year-old with far too much experience, which is essential to the story's success. Too many "teenagers" in movies look like they're 28.
And, for those who are used to Neve Campbell in her role on "Party of Five" or even in the two "Scream" movies, watch out. Her portrayal of a drug-addled loser with too much black eye-make-up (Hollywood's new calling card for troubled girls) is an eye-opener, especially in its physical elements (remember that just because her contract has a no-nudity clause, that doesn't rule out other things . . .)
To sum up, if you're easily offended, stay away from "Wild Things." However, if you don't mind a little bit of artful sleaze every once in a while, you can't do much better.
©1998 James Kendrick