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'Something Wild' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 07, 1986

Romantic comedy becomes metaphysical mystery becomes killer thriller in Jonathan Demme's unpredictable amalgam, "Something Wild." Demme, whose successes include "Melvin and Howard" and "Stop Making Sense," unnerves us with this jittery variation on the urban nightmare "After Hours."

Here the off-center director explores the consequences of trading away upwardly mobile strictures -- that choking capitalist necktie -- for liberation. And who better to lead the way than a woman -- she who was last said to be liberated? As in "After Hours," and for that matter "Desperately Seeking Susan," a free-spirited imp (Melanie Griffith) leads a smothering drudge (Jeff Daniels) into the wonderland of anarchy.

The Corporation's Charles Driggs is kidnapped by the Avant-Garde's Lulu Hankel, who promises to drive him to his office but instead takes him to New Jersey| In a cheap motel, she handcuffs him to the bed, jumps him in her black underwear, and forces him to call in sick. Kinky sex out of the way, they fall ever deeper in love as they motor to Pennsylvania for Lulu's Class of '76 high school reunion.

Despite the quirky trappings, "Something Wild" is often as tame as its star couple, a pair who scream Ivory soap and plenty of Miracle Whip. Newcomer Ray Liotta does add some menacing momentum when he swaggers onto the scene with his bad-boy face and big-cat charisma. He plays ex-con Ray, who attends the class bash to be reunited with his high school sweetheart -- Lulu.

Midway the pace improves as Lulu and Charlie race back to New York, terrorized by the psychotic Ray in a Volvo ("Baby On Board" signs included). It's an abrupt turn of events, but at least it gets your attention.

The unusual screenplay is the first by E. Max Frye, who wrote it as a project for NYU film school. It's promising, not polished but Demme and crew haven't made it any glossier with the stale settings and stock, uninvolving cinematography.

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