Aaron Spelling meets Joe Eszterhas! Not exactly words of praise, but they
are in reference to John McNaughton's erotic thriller Wild Things, which
shamelessly melds the best of both trashy worlds with a most welcome sense
The Wild Things of the title are two high school girls that could have
come straight from a Spelling soap: snotty, upper crust Kelly Van Ryan
(Denise Richards) and punky Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell), the average girl
from the wrong side of the tracks. These two opposites are united when
they both cry rape at the hands of school guidance counselor Sam Lombardo
(Matt Dillon), who has a reputation for being a womanizer. These sordid
charges set off a chain of bewildering, ever-twisting chain of events that
come to entangle a surprisingly varied cross-section of Blue Bay, Florida's
Wild Things wouldn't be an erotic thriller without sex, and McNaughton and
Peters pull off some of the most heated doozies this side of Joe Eszterhas.
Most notorious of these scenes is a steamy menage a trois; on paper it
would appear to be a shock tactic on the Eszterhas level, but the act plays
an important role within the context of the story. The actor whose role
shoulders most of the sexiness duties is Richards, and she proves to be a
smoldering carnal presence, whether merely coming out of a pool or standing
still in dripping wet clothing. Too bad she can't act worth a damn,
proving that her painfully inept work in Starship Troopers was no fluke.
The assembled media in the audience could not control their laughter during
a straight-faced crying scene (think Elizabeth Berkley, but with tears),
nor could they hold it in as a stiff pout remained glued to her face when
Kelly is treated to a poolside grilling by detective Ray Duquette (Kevin
The trailer to Wild Things gives away a key plot twist (which I still
won't reveal here), but even if you have seen that trailer, there are
plenty of surprises up the film's sleeve. That's just one of strengths of
Stephen Peters's well-crafted script, which spins plot reversals that shock
without completely violating logic or common sense. Yes, some twists _are_
outlandish, and that's where his refreshing sense of humor is tonic. I
don't believe Richards meant to be funny, but there is plenty of
intentional humor that keeps this knowingly trashy story from taking itself
too seriously. When two at-odds characters display a surprising affection
toward each other, this out-of-left-field development is made more
tolerable by Duquette's absolutely priceless comic reaction to it.
Humor also springs from Peters's wide, sudsy canvas of characters. Bill
Murray is a hoot as Sam's neck brace-wearing shyster attorney, who has
built a career on fraudulent insurance claims. Also adding quirky laughs
to the proceedings are more peripheral characters, such as rich, pompous
attorney Tom Baxter (Robert Wagner) and Kelly's slutty mom Sandra (Theresa
Russell). It is to Peters's credit that these minor players make as
distinct and lasting impressions as more prominent ones, such as Suzie,
Sam, Kelly, or detectives Duquette and Gloria Perez (Daphne Rubin-Vega).
But Wild Things remains a plot-driven movie, and the story is never less
than engrossing and, in the end, satisfying. And I mean the _very_ end.
Don't be fooled by the "The End" card that appears to conclude the action.
Even more developments--and important insight--are revealed as the final
cast list unspools. The wild ride that is Wild Things is indeed
manipulative trash that appeals to audiences' basest instincts, but at
least it makes no bones about it--and works.