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'Wild Things': A Hot Pursuit

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 20, 1998

  Movie Critic

Wild Things
Neve Campbell and Denise Richards star in "Wild Things." (Columbia)

John McNaughton
Kevin Bacon;
Matt Dillon;
Neve Campbell;
Theresa Russell;
Denise Richards;
Daphne Rubin-Vega;
Robert Wagner;
Bill Murray
Running Time:
1 hour, 46 minutes
For nudity, sexual situations, profanity and violence
They're not calling it "Wild Things" for nothing. It's set in steamy South Florida, where gators roam the swamps while ice-cool temptresses strut the shore of exclusive Blue Bay. We're talking Generation "Baywatch" wild, as in Neve Campbell – yow! And Denise Richards – sssssssssss! (For the Boomers, there's Theresa Russell – oingaboinga!– buffed up and stripped down to about 0.7% fat content.) On the male side, we're talking Matt Dillon – hunkahooga! And Kevin Bacon . . . OK, so there is no appropriate sexual sound for Kevin. But in this story, as in real life, he is connected to everybody.

A passionate murder mystery with more twists than a thrashing alligator, this movie's about Sam Lombardo (Dillon), a handsome high school guidance counselor with a yacht and a few too many young things swirling around his wake.

On the job at Blue Bay High School, he can't seem to shake off student Kelly Van Ryan (Richards). Kelly, the hot daughter of blue-blood trophy wife Sandra Van Ryan (Russell, apparently playing Kathleen Turner in "Body Heat"), keeps inviting herself into his jeep or his home. And darn it, she always seems to get herself soaked when she's wearing a white T-shirt.

After yet another of her seductive attempts, Kelly leaves Sam's house with less than a smile on her face. Sam is charged with rape. The State throws the book at him, with the help of aggressive detective Ray Duquette (Bacon) and a second victim, Suzie Toller (Campbell), a bad gal from the wrong side of the tracks who also claims Sam raped her.

Hiring the only attorney who'll take on Blue Bay's ruling class (Bill Murray), Sam faces a stiff jail sentence and – at the very least – the death of his already questionable reputation.

From here on, the story begins its crazy course, all the way to the bitter end. (In fact, the story keeps going after the credits, as it squeezes out even more revelations.) The film's clearly a crock, but screenwriter Stephen Peters surely knows that. But you'll hear no complaints from its target audience.

"Wild Things" is about mood – the kind of instant-gratification song-and-dance that flares up in every MTV video or sultry underwear commercial. It's for straight-ahead, no-apology, rubber-necked gazing. What else can you conclude about a movie in which Kelly and a comely girlfriend hose down Sam's jeep (as a sort of community service job), both wearing white T-shirts and getting all wet and soapy, while a song wails "I want what I want, I want it now" over the soundtrack?

"Wild Things," directed by John McNaughton (who did the grisly "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"), may not have a single redeeming feature, but it doesn't have a dull moment, either.

There's some sort of entertainment value in the operatic sultriness almost dripping from bad girls Campbell and Richards; the amusing what-am-I-doing-here? performance by ambulance-chaser Murray, whose wall is lined with photographs of grateful clients – all of them wearing neck braces; and in the moment when country clubber Tom Baxter (Robert Wagner) warns Sam: "Maybe you didn't hear me, Lombardo. You're finished in Blue Bay!" And besides, if you don't like what you see – or rather, if you don't like whom you see – you can just give this one a big, wet miss.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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