**/**** Image A- Sound A-
starring Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Denise Richards
screenplay by Stephen Peters
directed by John McNaughton
by Bill Chambers I shepherded myself through puberty on a steady diet of Cinemax and I've apologized for worse than this movie's sins on behalf of director John McNaughton, whose Mad Dog and Glory almost sires a new genre: misogyny uplift. So I've always considered my indifference towards Wild Things to be something of an anomaly. A continuation of a theme that ran subtly through McNaughton's powerful Normal Life, i.e., some inextricable link between carnal desire and pecuniary greed, Wild Things (originally titled Sex Crimes) opens with an aerial view of the 'Glades that cleverly juxtaposes alligator-infested swampland with the grounds of a nearby high school. The implication is clear, but then again it's too clear, and you can shut the movie off then and there without missing a beat.
Matt Dillon stars as Sam Lombardo, a guidance counsellor ("Guidance counsellors get to find out all sorts of interesting things") accused of rape by the buxom blue blood Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards, in her only halfway-decent performance). We're fairly certain that Kelly is crying wolf, although the early part of the film intrigues for using the blame-the-victim hypocrisy that often surrounds an incident of sexual assault to cast doubt--not to mention guilt--on our suspicions. Enter Suzie (Neve Campbell, parading around in her no-nudity clause), a white-trash delinquent who elicits a strange kind of pathos off the bat for McNaughton's decision to accompany her formal introduction with K's Choice's amazing ode to junkie shame "Not An Addict" ("It's not a habit/It's cool/I feel alive/If you don't have it/You're on/The Other Side"). Suzie corroborates Kelly's claim by parroting a telltale phrase allegedly uttered by Sam in the act.
Just as the totalitarian satire of the previous year's Starship Troopers (also featuring Richards) sailed over the heads of many viewers, some people found Wild Things' intentions nebulous or downright inscrutable despite its outright ridiculing of soft-porn conventions and contemporary whodunits. (Stephen Peters's screenplay may actually have been ahead of its time in its numbing succession of plot twists, which seems a more trenchant genre critique post-Ehren Kruger than it did post-Bryan Singer.) Perhaps both films are too ironically detached for the good of their entertainment value; it says everything, I think, that Bill Murray (for whom McNaughton was a Wes Anderson prototype) plays the closest thing to a human being in Wild Things--an ambulance-chasing lawyer, at that. In fact, the only truly resonant aspect of Wild Things is incidental: Kevin Bacon unwittingly reprised his jaded cop character in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River.
The adjustments made to Wild Things for its "Unrated Edition," which runs seven minutes longer than the theatrical cut, are not elaborated upon in any detail by accompanying press materials. Near as I can tell from this third viewing of the film without the previous version handy, only the pool scene (in which Kelly and Suzie check each other for tonsillitis) and ending-credits montage, now supplemented with a static shot of Dillon groping Richards from behind, betray a substantial amount of additional footage. There's nothing new that would've pushed the envelope of the R rating, even in these puritanical times--just another fleeting cameo from Richards's areolae. (I found myself wondering if they originally held back the girl-on-girl action due to the chlorine-bleached complexion of Richards in particular.) The ultimate coyness of Wild Things--a bona fide erotic thriller, unlike McNaughton's near-pornographic Normal Life (which includes incendiary work from, of all people, Luke Perry and Ashley Judd)--is surprising, as is aging sexpot Theresa Russell getting the most titillating moment in a picture that purports to humour jailbait fiends.
Columbia TriStar's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD release is hit-and-miss. The image improves after a grimy opening credits sequence and is absolute perfection by chapter 25, a climactic yachting escapade. Detail is consistently good but occasionally compromised by pixellation that was seemingly avoidable, given the disc's veritable lack of extras. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio reproduces a mix that is professional but underwhelming, with nice attention paid to replicating the acoustics of a courtroom. Trailers for Wild Things, Wild Things 2, Cruel Intentions, New Best Friend, and Sin join filmographies for McNaughton, Peters, Bacon, Dillon, Campbell, Richards, and Murray in rounding out the platter. Originally published: March 30, 2004.