Wild Things (1998)
Wild Things (1998)

Genre: Crime Drama and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: March 20th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John McNaughton Actors: Matt Dillon, Kevin Bacon, Denise Richards, Neve Campbell, Theresa Russell, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Robert Wagner, Bill Murray, Carrie Snodgress

 


 

H

alfway through the senior year at the exclusive Blue Bay High School in tropical Florida, educator-of-the-year-cum-guidance-counselor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) introduces a seminar on sex crimes, hosted by the local police department’s Detectives Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) and Gloria Perez (Daphne Rubin-Vega), to discuss date rape, sexual harassment, and other pertinent issues – which none of the students take seriously. Ultimately, it turns out to be an opportunity for the class clowns to crack jokes. And outcast pupil Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell) even walks out after insulting Duquette.

That afternoon, as the overly friendly Lombardo teaches a thing or two to aspiring boating student Jimmy (Cory Pendergast), he dodges the inappropriate affections of cheerleader Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards) – and then the advances of her affluent mother, Sandra (Theresa Russell), who appears in her robe when her daughter is dropped off. Sam just can’t seem to fend off lusty teenagers (his adult girlfriend, played by Jennifer Bini, is curiously a year younger than Richards, despite the age differences in their roles). When the weekend arrives, Kelly finds an excuse to turn up at Sam’s house (to wash his Jeep), and then manages to push her way inside – though a fade to black leaves audiences wondering what happened. She eventually withdraws from the premises looking disheveled and upset, though the amount of time that has passed is unknown.

George S. Clinton’s music is the epitome of a ’90s softcore soundtrack, brimming with twanging bass guitar notes, pounding percussion, and casual saxophone riffs, while pop songs of the era fill in the gaps. It’s evident from the beginning that, though crimes and mystery will be a part of the proceedings, sex and nudity and suggestive dialogue will be at the forefront, led by a cast of Hollywood sex symbols. And, sure enough, Kelly accuses Sam of rape, bringing a scandal against the school teacher that could destroy his reputation forever.

“These people ruined your life, bro.” Going up against a wealthy and influential family proves immediately daunting for Lombardo; he’s branded guilty even before any evidence is gathered. And his only legal option is a seedy lawyer (Bill Murray) located a few towns away. The pursuit of the truth, however, is secondary to the character development, which allows for plenty of seemingly tall tales to be woven. Much of the yarn feels conspiratorial and duplicitous, blending lust and seduction with manipulation and violence and revenge – along the lines of a younger, hipper take on “Body Heat” or “Blood Simple.” But it’s also far less absorbing (like “Malice” or “Killing Me Softly”) or tense; even the courtroom drama isn’t exactly surprising, despite the appeal of Murray getting to badger a witness to comical results.

The acting is mediocre, the script is only passable (some of the dialogue is ludicrous), and the pacing is slow. And, most disappointingly, the twists and turns aren’t shocking enough. Yet it’s difficult to dismiss the notoriety – and silliness – of the much-talked-about threesome scene (short and incomplete as it may be), which overshadows the majority of the plot. Of course, once the first revelation is revealed, the audience knows too much, diminishing the guesswork; the police have to solve scenarios of which viewers are already aware (and Duquette recording some pool-frolicking is laughable). “We don’t know anything yet.” Some of the neo-noir tones are amusing, but the structure of the mystery is weak (there are also countless bad fades to black and far too much exposition at the conclusion); it’s never as baffling or thrilling as it is merely conventional in its unlikely complicatedness.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10