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Wild Things

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Wild Things

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Neve Campbell
Director: John McNaughton
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: March 1998
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Noir, Suspense

*Also starring: Matt Dillon, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell, Bill Murray, Carrie Snodgress, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Robert Wagner, Jeff Perry

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

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 of humor.

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 population.

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 Bacon).

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.

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