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WILD THINGS
Unrated Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Theresa Russell, Denise Richards, Daphne Rubin Vega, Robert Wagner, Bill Murray
Director: John McNaughton
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: April 20, 2004

"People aren't always what they appear to be. Don't forget that."

Film ***

It's rare that a movie feels so proud to be extremely lurid and over the top the way Wild Things does. I remember seeing it in the theater, and I couldn't have seen it at a more perfect time. When it was released, I had just then begun to be more and more fascinated by film noir, having just seen L.A. Confidential a few months previous, and if there was ever a movie that celebrated film noir at every angle, this was it. Wild Things is stylish film noir, and then some.

As in all cases with reviewing a thriller, I'll do my absolute best to describe as much of the plot without revealing too much, or what the ads never did. Trust me, Wild Things has so many crazy turns and surprises that by the film's end, I lost count. Needless to say, it's that aspect that makes watching it a most incredible experience.

The story's setting is in the sunny town of Blue Bay, the perfect town for a noir setting. Matt Dillon stars as Sam Lombardo, a high school guidance counselor who's also very much the ladies man of the town. Though he gives the illusion of a good Samaritan, with a Teacher of the Year award on his shoulder, Lombardo is soon accused of some serious charges.

Enter Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards), the richest, and yes, hottest girl in town. When Kelly reveals that she was the victim of rape at the hands of Lombardo, it results in the most sensational case to ever hit the town. Lombardo maintains his innocence, saying that Kelly has been an emotionally damaged girl ever since her father's suicide. When taken to court, Lombardo is given somewhat limited representation by low-end ambulance chaser Ken Bowden (Bill Murray, funny as ever in a scene stealing performance.)

Unexpectedly, the case goes sour upon the testimony of fellow student Suzie (Neve Campbell), who reveals to the court that Kelly was setting up Lombardo from the start. So the case goes in Lombardo's favor, resulting in a huge payout from Kelly wealthy mother (Theresa Russell). Despite having the charges against him thrown out, Lombardo feels his future at the high school is over anyway in the midst of Kelly hatred for him. The money coming to him is from no less than the girl's trust fund.

Though it looks as if a high profile case went south, local cop Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) suspects something lurking beneath the surface. His suspicions consists of the three key figures in the case; Lombardo, Kelly, and even Suzie, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is bitter enemies with Kelly. Duquette thinks that the whole case was nothing more than an acting stunt pulled off by the three culprits, as part of a scam to get away with the millions of dollars given in Lombardo's direction.

The rest of the plot I'll leave for you to discover. Seeing a movie like this for the first time is a most joyous experience, and I wouldn't dare dream of ruining that by revealing any of the crucial twists in the story. I feel like I've may have spoiled too much already.

Director John McNaughton has visited the dark side of cinema before. After all, he made one of the most disturbing films of its time with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. But Wild Things, for all its super sleaze and over the top qualities, is a far cry from anything disturbing, though it does contain enough extreme areas that most movies in our PC age would stray very far away from. One thing's for sure, McNaughton studied his film noir and got all of the elements right in a dead-on fashion.

And how about this game cast? You've got to give Matt Dillon credit for his smooth portrayal of such a guy who, on the written page, was fully meant to be despised. It was a well timed predecessor to the actor's next appearance, the blockbuster There's Something About Mary, released later that year.

As the young would-be sultry vixen, Denise Richards slips into the femme fatale role as perfectly as Cinderella does into her shoe. In addition, Ms. Richards has a scene or two that will certainly make the male audience quite happy, if you know what I mean.

Kevin Bacon also delivers a noteworthy performance as the high-on-suspicion cop with a few dark secrets of his own. Of course, by now it has become clear that Mr. Bacon's female fan base has increased following this movie. His notorious scene of frontal-ness practically became the big news surrounding the movie. Wish somebody would've warned me before I first saw the movie, jeez. ;)

But a special honor shall go way of Bill Murray, whose twenty minute appearance in the movie provides some very huge laughs. What makes his antics so uniquely funny is the notion that in the midst of all the steaminess and suspense, Murray is able to through in some memorable laughs into the mix, as only he can deliver.

Wild Things represents a complete and well done example of contemporary film noir. Laced with endless intrigue and sex and sleaze coming from every corner imaginable, this is a memorable and proud-to-be-over-the-top piece of good trash, which is something very hard to execute.

NOTE: Be sure not to turn off the movie during the end credits. Certain plot details/revelations, including a few new bits in this Unrated version, are included.

Video ****

Complete with a strong and a very wide-eye provided by director McNaughton, the movie has been given a most solid look, courtesy of Columbia Tri Star, for its second time around on DVD. The setting of Blue Bay is key to the movie as well as a character in itself. Every aspect of the sharp-as-a-blade scenery (sunny Florida has never looked sexier) is given a most appropriate sense of detail. Colors are equally stunning, and there are no image flaws detected anywhere. In short, a most solid job.

Audio ***1/2

First off, I'm pleased to report that CTS has issued something of a first: a Japanese 5.1 mix for an English speaking film. Quite a nice change from the norm. We'll have to see if this becomes a new trend on all DVDs. As for the initial 5.1 mix, the quality is ever so strong and quality-perfected. Numerous set pieces provide some nice range amongst channels, and dialogue and the perfect use of music, including a song or two by Morphine (one of my favorite bands) payoff nicely as well. Well done on many levels.

Features *

I was quite surprised to find a lack of extras on this disc, since the prior release included some deleted scenes and a commentary track. I suppose that the 7 minutes of new, and occasionally sexy, footage serves as a bonus. Other than that, all that's supplied are trailers for this, as well as Wild Things 2, Cruel Intentions, Sin, and New Best Friend.

Summary:

Trashy and lurid material has never been more fun and thoroughly enjoyable. Wild Things remains a fun ride, as its endless doses of twists and turns do merit repeat viewings.