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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Many a tale has exploited the theme, "Things and people are not always what they seem to be." This is the perfect concept for designing a thriller which twists and turns, its ending unpredictable--at least by anyone who hasn't seen scores of films that center on humankind's infinite capacity for double-dealing. You may or may not guess the finale of "Wild Things," and the audience is advised not to reveal the conclusion, but notwithstanding your ability to foretell the future, you'll find "Wild Things" a hoot. This movie, directed by John McNaughton--known for his low-budget, cultish "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"--is more conventional than his subsequent features, such as "The Borrower" and Eric Bogosian's one-man "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll," and features humor, both intended and unintentional, that evokes laughter along with its tension.

Using a broad, satiric brush to reproach the legal profession (Bill Murray as a criminal attorney?), the influence wielded by the super-rich, and even the sorts of sordid plots that have long kept the novels of, say, Dean Koontz on best-seller lists forever, Stephen Peters's script deals with conspiracies woven in the upscale yachting town of Blue Bay Florida, where wealthy women wield influence over the institutions of banking and education and get to choose their favorite deck boy or other servant for their daily bed partners.

With the alligator-swarming waters of the Everglades providing an apt metaphor for the twisted intrigues and machinations of the wage slaves as well as the rich and powerful, "Wild Things" focuses on a popular high-school guidance counselor, Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon), whose interest in the dazzling senior student, Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards), goes beyond allowing her to wash his jeep one Sunday. The daughter of the town's wealthiest woman, Sandra Van Ryan (Theresa Russell), Kelly is accustomed to getting what she wants, though she seems to despise her provocative mother to the same degree that she is drawn to Sam. After inviting herself inside Sam's downscale home, she leaves in tears, confessing to her mother and to detectives Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) and Gloria Perez (Daphne Rubin-Vega) that she had been raped by the teacher. When a vulgar misfit, Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell), comes forward with a similar story of rape, Sam is brought to trial defended by an ambulance-chasing lawyer, Ken Bowden (Bill Murray). As the seemingly open-and-shut case proceeds in the courtroom, there develops a series of accusations that sends spectators reeling, after which follows a sequence of events involving the detectives, the guidance counselor, the students and their parents.

Some of the best segments of the movie are its comic moments, particularly its throwaway remarks. As Sam lectures a senior seminar in the school auditorium, he asks the youngsters, "What is a sex crime?" "Not gettin' it," replies a quick-thinking and absolutely correct 17-year-old. Bill Murray does particularly well in the humor department as an attorney whose walls are covered with pictures of his client, who all appear to be happily waving to him as they support themselves on their crutches. Sporting a brace about his neck, he explains to his client, Sam, "I don't wear this all the time...but some of the insurance guys are hanging around." Murray is one of those comics that can make you laugh just by looking at him, his angelic face and twinkling eyes signaling that yet another one-liner is coming. "Hold my calls," he announces pretentiously to his secretary in an office obviously bereft of clients.

Photographer Jeffrey Kimball points his camera to the obvious symbols of Floridian swampland such as the menacing alligators but does not otherwise exert himself to provide a particular noir or other atmospheric core to the film. But Denise Richards is good to look at, her young rival Suzie Toller effectively ribald, and Matt Dillon does what he can to keep his young female audience glued to his impressive biceps. There is also a sizzling, almost soft-core scene involving Sam, Suzie and Kelly. Theresa Russell does a charming sendup of haute bourgeois women in her role as an heiress who pretty much runs the town. But Kevin Bacon is virtually wasted in a straight role of obsessed and humorless detective.

"Wild Things" is a fun movie about a community of people with larceny in their hearts, which delivers humor, some whodunit mystery, and quite a few samples of good-old trashy dialogue.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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