Saturday, March 22, 2014

Wild Things


I arrived in Schenectady this afternoon for rehearsal and found that absolutely nothing had been finished for the debut of my Sink For Your Supper concert tour. The motorized iceberg that's supposed to carry me across the stage in graceful pirouettes was belching smoke. A half dozen worried looking IATSE members were bent over it, trying to keep it on course. My divine new Gaultier dress did arrive in time, but the white leather harness on the bodice is a little too large and the straps chafe at my arms. I’m going to have to pad with Kleenex. The concertmaster was able to get the orchestra through all my numbers but the trombone section kept blatting during my tessitura on the Gilligan's Island theme. If it happens during performance, someone will be in the unemployment line tomorrow.

I had two hours until show time so I relaxed in my dressing room with a nice cup of Wild Berry Zinger and my laptop. I have discovered that my laptop has the ability to play DVD films so I decided I would quickly watch one to keep all my fans up to date on the latest in cinema trends. Unfortunately, I had not brought any of my film library with me so I undertook a search of the backstage area and found one entitled Wild Things inside the stage manager's podium. From the title, I took it to be some sort of nature film and I thought that an hour or so with Bambi might be just the ticket to soothe jangled nerves. Unfortunately, the only kind of Bambi featured in this film is the kind to be found gyrating around a pole in one of the seedier gentleman's clubs.

Wild Things is one of those southern gothic neo-noir films in which everyone is wicked and trying to double cross everyone else. This one is especially lurid as the femme fatales are high school students. The fabulously wealthy Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards) is in love with Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon), her guidance counselor. At the same time, Sam has been involved with her mother Sandra (Theresa Russell) but has since moved on to her lawyer’s (Robert Wagner) daughter while Sandra has moved on to the pool boy. One day, something happens between Kelly and Sam when Kelly comes over to wash his jeep for the senior car wash. She claims rape. He denies it. Enter two investigators for the local sex crimes unit (Kevin Bacon and Daphne Rubin-Vega). They think they have a case, especially when they find another teen, the white trash Susie Toller (Neve Campbell) who tells a similar story. Charges are pressed, the rape case goes to trial with Sam represented by a shyster lawyer (Bill Murray) and then the real fun begins.

As the film progresses, no one is what they seem and motives are very different than one expects. Things get so convoluted that they had to put some inserts into the end credits to explain the plot (and even then it's incomprehensible at worst and ludicrous at best). It doesn't really matter, though, because the movie is an amusement park ride that clips along at a rapid pace and does the occasional hairpin sharp curve when least expected - and that's part of the fun.

I think the south Florida setting (why are such movies always set in the semi-tropics?) is supposed to be symbolic and there are lots of montages of the Everglades and alligators; I think we're supposed to consider the characters as just another breed of swamp creature. Actually the gators are better behaved. It also allows plenty of opportunity for pleasant looking young actresses to run around in minimal clothing. Theresa Russell, however, at 43 looks much better in a bikini than Denise Richards, who plays her daughter.

Denise Richards, who has been aspiring to the title 'Worst Actress of the Decade' through film after film, isn't bad here, as she doesn't have to show any maturity or adult qualities. She can handle petulant teenage flounce. Neve Campbell, as the trashy bad girl, is fine but almost any actress of the right age could have pulled it off. Matt Dillon looks much too young and sexy for the put upon Mr. Lombardo. It would have been much more interesting with someone like Nicolas Cage in the role.

The supporting cast are obviously enjoying themselves in roles that are little more than caricatures, especially Theresa Russell as the wealthy vengeful harpy and Bill Murray and Robert Wagner as two very different types of lawyer (both equally cliché). John McNaughton, the director, gives us a workman like staging that's well paced but offers us nothing new. He has never lived up to the promise of his early independent film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer . Kevin Bacon was a producer on the film - you'd think he'd have arranged to give himself some more to do other than look mysterious and tight lipped and have insisted on better explanation of his back story which is key to the whole plot. He did give himself a gratuitous nude scene, however - the film is equal opportunity in that regard.

The DVD contains both wide screen and full screen copies of the film. Extras include a few Bill Murray out takes, an alligator maiming a prosthetic hand by mistake, and a cut scene between Murray and Robert Wagner that goes nowhere. There is also a commentary track by the filmmakers. If you expect it to clarify the somewhat ludicrous, and, at times, exceedingly opaque plot, forget it. It is, however full of useful tips on location filming in south Florida and I am now quite knowledgeable on the vagaries of the local weather and on insect control.

This is a great piece of mind candy for a rainy Sunday afternoon but should not take precedence over the important things in life, like a home pedicure.

Gratuitous air boat driving. Gratuitous  ménage a trois. Gratuitous bikini wearing. Gratuitous symbolic crystal bowl smashing. Gratuitous pot smoking. Gratuitous lesbian lip locks. Gratuitous alligator wrestling. Gratuitous Kevin Bacon's bacon.

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