Wild Things delivers salaciousness with a wink

Wild Things delivers salaciousness with a wink

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain has us reflecting on other Florida crime movies.

Wild Things (1998)
Working the line between satire and sleaze like a stripper pole, the gleefully lurid Wild Things leaves no sensibility unscorched. Filmed through a syrup haze that anticipates the hyper-real palette of CSI: Miami, it’s an absurdly twisty sunshine noir in which using other people is both survival skill and sport. Then at the peak of her sex-objecthood, Denise Richards serves the same function as in the previous year’s Starship Troopers: She’s an adolescent fantasy made flesh, plus a little silicone—a blow-up doll come (mostly) to life. Yet unlike Paul Verhoeven, director John McNaughton requires Richards to be in on the joke as a teenage femme fatale who falsely accuses her high-school guidance counselor (Matt Dillon) of rape. 

That toxic twist is just the first of many, as the film spins a sticky web that also ensnares Neve Campbell’s surly dropout and Kevin Bacon’s clueless cop. The plot becomes so convoluted it’s still being worked out during the end credits, but keeping track of the double (and triple and quadruple) crosses is hardly the point, or at least not the best use of your time. The movie’s absurd convolutions can be read as a gonzo critique of the post-Scream vogue for endless reveals, or simply a lazy offshoot thereof, though when McNaughton slides his camera over Richards’ slicked-down, surgically enhanced body, irony seems beside the point.

Wild Things is at its most delirious during Bill Murray’s scenes as an oily shyster, nailing the confluence of trash and tension the movie sometimes struggles to find. McNaughton doesn’t dig his teeth into the material the way Verhoeven did with Showgirls, preserving an element of taste, but also stopping shy of the potential for self-immolating genius.

Availability: Sony DVD and Blu-ray of the theatrical and (for the truly prurient) unrated cuts; rental and purchase from the major digital providers; and disc rental from Netflix.