Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 29, 2004)
You know all those cheesy sex thrillers they show weekends on cable?
Straight-to-video classics with titles like Naked Lies, Stormy Nights, or Victim of Desire? Well, if you've seen any of those movies, you've essentially seen Wild Things. Oh, it features a B+ list cast, much better production values, and more wit and cleverness, but Wild Things clearly has more in common with its late-night cable brethren than it does with typical multiplex fare.
Don't misinterpret my comments as a knock on Wild Things, however. Yes, it's trash, but it's gleeful trash. It knows and comprehends its nature and it never really aspires to be anything BUT sleazy fun. Never do you get the feeling that the filmmakers are trying to make any grand statements; it's a thriller in a soap opera setting.
In that regard, Wild Things largely succeeds. It takes the viewer on a fairly convoluted ride through a variety of mostly implausible plot twists and turns and it frequently ends up in unexpected places. You won't find terribly crisp or memorable dialogue, and you won't find extremely compelling characters. You will get a story that is worth watching, however.
In fact, I was surprised to discover that Wild Things is worth re-watching. Only six weeks passed between my first and second screenings of Things. When I first took it in, I thought it was
enjoyable but nothing special. Certainly it was worth what I paid for it – I got it for a whopping 33 cents via one of those nutty Internet specials back in the late Nineties – but that was about the extent of my enthusiasm.
I watched it a second time so soon after the first to write my old review. I wasn't really looking forward to this re-screening because it hadn't been very long since my first viewing and also because the film seemed to really rely on the element of surprise. I didn't anticipate that it would be very interesting the second time since I already knew what strange turns the story would take.
To my surprise, I found the second viewing to be at least as enjoyable as the first. While I think part of this was because I found it interesting to examine the events more from the perspective of the characters as they actually understood things - not as you think they interpret their environment - I really can't explain why the film remained compelling for me.
Okay, some of the steamy scenes didn't hurt. If I ever get tired of watching Neve Campbell and Denise Richards make out, please shoot me. While Wild Things probably contains less sex than its B-movie compatriots, it nonetheless heats things up more than most theatrical releases. There are also a fair number of seemingly gratuitous shots of Denise Richards in skimpy outfits.
While some may argue that these bits are unnecessary, I disagree. This film has no real reason to exist if not for its sexy nature, and the picture really seems to revel in that fact. The shots of women in revealing outfits didn't seem exploitative to me; at the risk of sounding glib, it all appeared to be in the gleefully trashy spirit of the movie. And for the record, no one in the film bares more than Kevin Bacon, who lets us all see his schlong; for those opposed to nude scenes in movies, this probably won't help - male or female nudity shouldn't matter - but at least the film took an equal opportunity approach to the matter.
Truly it is the quality of the film that makes it more notable than the cable classics. Not only did this mean that the movie would look and sound good, which it did, but this also allowed the filmmakers to attract a much higher caliber of acting talent than would normally be found in this kind of project. Both Matt Dillon and Bacon are good but unspectacular as the male leads, and both Bill Murray and Robert Wagner make great use of their supporting roles.
However, the most interesting acting really came from the female leads, Neve Campbell and Denise Richards. Much has been made about how Campbell took this role to combat her "good girl" image and how it would be such a stretch for her. I agree that her white trash character definitely takes her into different territory than she entered in Party of Five and Scream, but unfortunately she didn't seem to alter her acting style much. I thought she still came across as her usual sweet/semi-vulnerable self; no matter how nasty she was supposed to be, she kept that little twinkle in her eye that made her popular.
Richards, on the other hand, was a different story. Whatever acting reputation she made was built largely on her role in Starship Troopers and The World Is Not Enough. Her work in those two flicks didn’t exactly line her up to look toward a future Oscar.
I thought it made sense that Theresa Russell was cast of Richards' mother in Wild Thing. Russell built a career in the 1980's as a vixen with absolutely no acting talents, so why not make connect her to Richards, a woman who seemed set to inherit that mantle? Surprisingly, however, Richards acquits herself well in Wild Things. Oh, she's no Olivier - though Olivier probably wouldn't have succeeded in the role, since he's a man and he's dead - but she nonetheless does some pretty good work here. It probably helps that unlike her fighter pilot role in Starship Troopers, here she plays a conniving sexpot who uses her looks and her money to get what she wants; doesn't exactly seem to be as much of a stretch, does it? Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Richards actually can come across as less wooden than Pinocchio.
No one will ever confuse Wild Things for a classic. Nonetheless, it sits as a good example of its genre. It does what it does well and offers a frisky and interesting piece of fluff.