Welcome to Blue Bay, Florida. A mythical elite beachfront town ripped right from the pages of classic Hollywood film noir, Blue Bay is a world run by money, corruption and power, where every man is a con artist and every woman a cheap, oversexed nympho who'll screw you for a few bucks. It's also the world of 'Wild Things,' one of the most gleefully perverse and completely over-the-top potboilers to hit theaters since the glory days of Zalman King.
The story gives new meaning to the word "sordid." Matt Dillon stars as Sam Lombardo, Blue Bay High School's local guidance counselor who is known for, shall we say, giving a bit of extra-curricular help to the young ladies (and occasionally a few of their mothers). Unfortunately, he crosses the wrong wild thing when he appears to spur the advances of the beautiful Kelly Lanier Van Ryan (Denise Richards). Kelly subsequently accuses him of rape, landing Sam in a particularly prickly situation, as he once had an affair with Kelly's insatiable mother Sandra (Theresa Russell), who also happens to be the richest woman in Blue Bay.
At the resulting trial, there's a new surprise revelation around every corner. First, there's Suzie Marie Toller (Neve Campbell), one serious piece of poor white trash who comes to Kelly's aid, also pegging Sam for a prior rape -- but just what is the real nature of her relationship with each of them? Then there's the cynical cop Sgt. Ray Duquette (Kevin bacon) who clearly has axe to grind against Sam and his attorney (Bill Murray), who appears to only be in it for the money. As complications pile upon complications, it seems no one can be trusted. In Blue Bay, the schemes are far from tame, morals are in short supply and sex seems to be the only commodity with any value.
What elevates 'Wild Things' above your run-of-the-mill, basic cable sleaze-fest is its style. Director James McNaughton ('Henry,' 'Mad Dog & Glory') lays on the sweaty, swampy atmosphere so thick that humidity practically drips off the celluloid. Borrowing a page from 'Body Heat' and Martin Scorsese's 'Cape Fear' remake, McNaughton proves himself quite deft at mixing styles and sensibilities to create a film that's both retro and modern at the same time. 'Wild Things' may be filled with smutty language and explicit sexuality, but its clothes, production design and locations look right out of '50s B-movie noir.
Style smarts aside, 'Wild Things' would likely be nothing without its cast. There's a truly perverse pleasure to be had in seeing slumming A-listers deliver some of the most hilarious dialogue and gratuitous sex scenes ever to grace a mainstream Hollywood production. Each of the cast members seem to tear into their roles with unabashed glee, and you can almost see Bacon, Murray and especially Dillon holding back laughter -- how else to play some of the most acrobatic (and ridiculous) sexcapades since 'Showgirls?' And though it may be the equivalent of praising Paris Hilton for her singing skills, 'Wild Things' is undoubtedly Richards' best performance. She's so effective in her role as a ruthless little tramp that it suddenly becomes apparent why, for a brief fifteen minutes or so, she was pegged as Hollywood's next big "It" girl.
Alas, 'Wild Things' begins to unravel in its last third. Piling on a few too many twists and "shocking" reversals, it ultimately becomes a futile exercise in plot deconstruction. Like a jigsaw puzzle with a few extra pieces, after the slow burn of the first half, it starts to feel as if McNaughton lost confidence in the narrative and the characters and just decided to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Even a closing credits montage connecting all the missing dots, while clever, only underscores how unbelievable the story ultimately becomes. When it is finally revealed who orchestrated the whole caper, it would seem he or she is either a criminal mastermind with a 300 IQ, or just plain psychic.
Of course, few are probably watching 'Wild Things' for anything but prurient interest, and on that level the Unrated version of the film included in this Blu-ray edition more than delivers. Adding seven minutes of additional smutty footage, even more jaded viewers are likely to raise an eyebrow at the various sexual contortions included in this cut. While 'Wild Things' isn't really a good movie, for once here is film billed as great trashy fun that delivers on its promises.
Sony provides a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer for 'Wild Things,' and the studio seems to have kept the master in good shape, with a clean, sun-drenched look. But while this catalogue relese looks better than I expected, it's still plagued by a few problems that prevent it from hitting a true home run.
With 'Wild Things' nearing its ten-year birthday, the photography by Jeffrey Kimball holds up as rather classy, at least for such a trashy little flick. Colors have a vivid but natural look, especially in the bright exteriors. There is none of the processed look that mars so many modern transfers, and contrast, too, is bold but not overdone. Detail is also generally impressive, with only darker interiors looking somewhat flat.
Unfortunately, knocking the video down a peg or two is some noticeable softness. Though the brightness of the photography compensates during exterior scenes, bland darker interiors combined with some grain tends to inhibit fine textures in the shadows. Also problematic is some obvious edge enhancement, which results in halos visible on sharply contrasted objects. Given the modern noir visual style of the film, I personally would have preferred an even softer appearance and less edginess.
Sony serves up another of its standard uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround tracks at 48kHz/16-bit/4.6mbps for 'Wild Things,' and the results aren't bad at all, with a pretty healthy sense of envelopment and a few nice touches to the sound design that really bolster the presentation.
Right from the get-go, George S. Clinton's rambunctious score is its own character in the movie, boasting a somewhat odd combination of funky, weird percussion and some unusually ethereal vocals. The track easily handles this varied musical palette, with richly warm highs and some punchy, tight low end.
I was also impressed with the attention to atmosphere. From some very loud crickets to the gentle crashing of waves, the rears are almost consistently flush with ambient effects. Granted, truly discrete effects are not that forceful, and 'Wild Things' is hardly an action movie, but in terms of delivering the requisite noir feel, this mix succeeds rather admirably.
While the R-rated standard-def DVD version of 'Wild Things' included an audio commentary from director John McNaughton and some outtakes, there are zero supplements on this Blu-ray version of 'Wild Things' -- not even a theatrical trailer. To be fair, the deleted scenes from that earlier release have been reintegrated into this Unrated version, but the missing audio commentary is a real bummer (especially for a film with such a twisty plot).
Trashy, lurid and ridiculous, 'Wild Things' is a total hoot. It's also very well made with excellent cinematography, a cool score and an A-list cast. If you like film noir throwbacks like 'Body Heat' and the smutty 'Basic Instinct,' you'll probably dig 'Wild Things.'
This Blu-ray release is a fairly straightforward affair -- a nice transfer and soundtrack, but not a single supplement. Sony certainly could have done a little better, but on the bottom line this one still delivers.