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USA 1998
Directed by
John McNaughton
107 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

Wild Things

Matt Dillon plays Sam Lombardo, a  hunky guidance counselor at a blue-belt Florida high school.  When teen sexpot Kelly (Denise Richards) the spoilt daughter of the very rich Mrs Sandra Von Ryan (Theresa Russell), with whom Sam had been having an affair, accuses him of rape, Sam, pleads innocent. Then a second student, Suzie (Neve Campbell) also accuses him of rape and he seems doomed. But Suzie breaks down in court under questioning by Sam’s lawyer (Bill Murray) and confesses that they framed Sam. Detective Duquette (Kevin Bacon) however believes the three were in collusion to rip-off Mrs Van Ryan.

Thrillers commonly depend on far-fetched twists to move their plots along. Wild Things takes this principle to the max, twisting (to paraphrase one of the characters lines) not once, not twice, not even thrice but four times (it may have been five) in order to bring off its improbable story of concupiscence. Whilst this might on the surface seem like clever scripting after the first twist, at least under John McNaughton’s direction it becomes counter-productive and creates a “here-we-go-again” effect.  

Wild Things wants to be a steamy neo-noir with a tongue-in-cheek vibe, the latter being largely signified by Bill Murray’s ambulance-chasing lawyer. There’s plenty of naked young flesh largely thanks to Denise Richards (who in what is perhaps the film’s biggest achievement, looks remarkably like Theresa Russell) but there’s little that's erotic about it. But whilst the film is slickly packaged (and, in this respect, a far cry from McNaughton’s grubby low budget tour-de-force, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 1986) aside from the fact that the main characters really have no motive for their murderous crimes other than to live the lifestyle of the idle rich, the film's biggest problem is Stephen Peters’ script which sign-posts the plot twists so that we recognize them before we see them.  And with each similar twist the time lag between recognition and execution gets longer and longer. In a completely unnecessary move (both because we could have imagined them and we couldn’t really care anyway) McNaughton sort of fills in the missing bits of the plot during the end credits before adding a final cherry on the twisty cake.

Murray is dryly amusing and Bacon, who has an executive producer credit, is efficient but Dillon who hadn’t really done anything of note since Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy (1989) spends most of the movie looking uncomfortable. Who could blame him?

FYI:  If you want to see multiple plot twists done well, check out David FIncher's The Game (1997)




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