This enjoyably trashy and raunchy 1998 neo-noir thriller has more twists and turns than the Great Ocean Road.
From memory this film had a so-so initial reception, but in the years since it’s become a cult favourite and a naughty guilty pleasure, with a plot so full of melodramatic twists the movie is still busy explaining them in the closing titles. It’s utterly ridiculous, but it’s also the kind of fun “smart dumb” movie that seems to be fully in on the joke.
It also makes the most of its humid and sultry setting in South Florida, with shots of the wild untamed swampland where alligators pop up menacingly above the water, hinting on something wicked going on in the picture-perfect resort town of Blue Bay. The plot revolves around two high school students, a spoiled rich girl Kelly (Denise Richards) and Suzie (Neve Campbell), a sullen grungy trailer park outsider who seems to hate everyone. Kelly’s got the hots for Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon), their hunky teacher, and takes every opportunity to pursue him.
A scandal erupts when Kelly accuses Lombardo of rape, with the audience left in the dark as to what exactly happened just before Kelly leaves her teacher’s house looking upset. Lombardo protests innocence, but his future looks dire when Suzie unexpectedly chimes in with her own accusation of sexual assault… and this is where it becomes impossible to discuss the plot any further, because this is where the whiplash story twists begin. Suffice to say that just when you think that the movie’s done throwing narrative surprises at you, you’re proven wrong. There’s always room for yet another BUT THEN…
Other than its bountiful switcheroos and backstabbing, the movie is infamous for its steamy three-way sex scene and some gratuitous full-frontal nudity from Kevin Bacon’s police officer Ray Duquette, who investigates the allegations. There’s also a delicious appearance from Bill Murray as a dodgy lawyer who wears a neck brace for the sake of an insurance scam, and Theresa Russell as Kelly’s bikini-wearing, vodka-swilling mother. Her reaction to the news that her daughter was raped is to scream, he must be insane to think he can do this to me!
In short, Wild Things is a piece of lurid, sordid trash, in the best possible way, with not a dull moment and a star-studded cast that elevates its B-movie sleaze. It’s also a lot of fun to see Neve Campbell revel in the role of a bad girl, when I’ve mostly remembered her as the upright heroine in Scream movies and the nauseatingly squeaky-clean Party of Five.
P.S. Is there dated technology more hilarious than those enormous, clunky late 90s cell phones?