WFTB Score: 8/20
The plot: Educator of the Year Sam Lombardo has his easy-going Florida lifestyle turned upside-down by accusations of rape from pouting rich girl Kelly van Ryan and trailer-park trash Suzie. Detectives Duquette and Perez investigate and discover that all is far from what it seems.
The Florida Everglades, hot and wet, form an appropriate backdrop to this sordid tale of sex, murder and double-cross. I say double-, but the plot of John McNaughton’s sultry thriller twists and turns like an angry snake, hence the vagueness of the plot summary above. A more detailed, and utterly spoilertastic, version is as below (if you’d rather stay in the dark, skip ahead to after ‘END OF SPOILERS’):
Popular and respected guidance counsellor Sam (Matt Dillon) has his car washed by student Kelly (Denise Richards), the daughter of Blue Bay’s finest and one of Sam’s previous conquests, Sandra van Ryan (Theresa Russell in fine man-eating form). Emerging from his house with torn clothes, Kelly tells Ray Duquette and Gloria Perez (Kevin Bacon and Daphne Rubin-Vega) that she has been raped, an accusation corroborated by poor, gothy Suzie (Neve Campbell). All seems lost: but when the case gets to court, Sam’s attorney Ken Bowden (Bill Murray) winkles from Suzie the confession that (Twist!) the girls have cooked up the story due to Kelly’s infatuation with Mr Lombardo. With Sandra van Ryan forced into a settlement, Sam walks away from his school with a cool $8.5 million.
Kelly tracks Sam down to his motel room, where (Twist!) they – and Suzie – celebrate with champagne and love-making. The whole case was a set-up all along, designed to get a share of the money Kelly would otherwise have to wait to inherit! Detective Duquette, however, is sceptical and resolves to keep a close eye on the girls, trying to take advantage of their suspicions about each other to get to the bottom of the case.
Suzie is right to be suspicious, as Sam and Kelly take her to the beach, whack her with a bottle (Twist?) and throw her into the swamps. Tragically, during the course of trying to protect Kelly from being murdered by Sam, Duquette is shot at himself and is forced to kill her. The subsequent investigation absolves Ray from blame and establishes that Kelly was responsible for Suzie’s death. Sam, now scott-free, is left to live in the lap of luxury.
Only when Sam goes into his beach house, Duquette is in the shower (Twist! Oh my God!) – the pair are in cahoots, and although shooting Kelly wasn’t part of the plan, the two men are now free and rich. They sail on Sam’s luxury boat, but Sam attacks Ray, sending him overboard. He climbs back aboard, only to be confronted by Sam and (TWIIIIST!) Suzie, who is still alive and bumps Ray off. Sam and Suzie can now enjoy a drink and sail away into the distance, except (Twist! – enough now) Sam’s drink is poisoned and he dies too. As Detective Perez finds out the real truth about Suzie from her family, she is greeted by Ken Bowman and a suitcase full of lots, and lots, of money (Tw… oh, it’s finished).
END OF SPOILERS
By now you will, of course, have come to the conclusion that the story is ridiculous, even with the ‘how it was done’ scenes that run through the closing credits. Even if the chief protagonist does have an IQ of 200, they would need to exercise not just blackmail but a form of mind control over the other characters to act in the way they do and lead to events resolving themselves in their favour. And having seen the film once, you certainly can’t watch it again, knowing exactly how the silly story is misdirecting you at every step.
Except, that’s not quite the case. Because the film has no desire to be taken seriously, it is actually quite good fun to see the plot building from unlikely to daft, through silly, ending up with outright absurdity. And the actors play their characters (none of them particularly sympathetic) with an engaging selfishness: Dillon is terrifically sleazy, but Bacon, Richards and Campbell, together with support from Murray and Russell all play their part in making Wild Things worth repeated viewings.
Coming back to Campbell and (especially) Richards, it would be fatuous to ignore the fact that their sexiness is used throughout to keep viewers interested. Richards is rarely out of a bikini or bra, except for the memorable occasion when Dillon helps her out of her clothes during the notorious threesome sequence (we see less of Campbell, presumably for contractual reasons). Whilst the sex scene is tawdry, it fits in with the atmosphere of the film and as such could hardly be called gratuitous. My only complaint is that Matt Dillon looks like he is enjoying himself rather too much, but jealousy is never a pleasant emotion.
So, whilst Wild Things is trash through and through, it is knowing trash that revels in its rubbishness and as such is the equal of other over-ripe pulp such as The Hot Spot or Heaven’s Prisoners. John McNaughton’s film is not high art, and his characters have no morals, but Florida and its inhabitants are always good-looking. For that reason alone, it is worth twisting again.