Wild Things, which is about sex and murder in the Everglades, sounded like great fun. A couple of weeks ago, there was even a screening-room buzz that it might be a trash classic. The movie, I had heard, was so happily florid (writhing alligators, steamy couplings, mean swampy stuff), that it rode right over the top of taste and good sense and landed in the blessed arms of Camp. So I was told. But then I saw it, and … no such luck. It is my dreary duty to report that Wild Things, which was written by Stephen Peters and directed by John McNaughton, lacks fantasy and flamboyance, that it lacks, precisely, wild things, and that most of it is just flat. Matt Dillon plays a guidance counselor at what appears to be a very backward high school at the edge of the swamp. The boys are louts, and literally every girl in the school makes eyes at Mr. Dillon. One of them (Denise Richards, of the big pouty lips) accuses him of rape. Is he a louse who sleeps with students? An honorable guy framed by an imaginative teen? Or is there some larger game at stake? What about that $8 million inheritance that everyone is talking about? And the druggy girl with short dark hair (Neve Campbell), a dropout who sits in a bungalow reading Céline – obviously she’s up to no good.
The film is up to no good, either. I noticed the same thing in Wild Things that I noticed in The Real Blonde: Everyone in the movie, no matter what he or she is reading, appears to be as stupid as hell. Is there some weird new disease going around? It’s as if filmmakers were afraid the audience might be outclassed by a few lines of snappy dialogue. Years ago, critics used to put down crudely written movies by saying that they resembled the network sitcoms. Now one has to say that they resemble the afternoon talk shows, the never-never land of twin lesbian rapists and incestuous Dalmatians. Angry moviegoers could throw Florida oranges at the screen, I suppose, but somehow I doubt that anyone will get upset. Audiences can’t be insulted anymore, though they can easily be bored. The movie’s most prominent feature is a series of sudden plot twists and reversals. The press has been sternly advised not to give any of these developments away, and I shall obey, though I can’t help pointing out that the twists are so abrupt and mechanical, and so little related to character, that they may very well have been devised by a dirty-minded 10-year-old diddling an interactive video game before nodding off to sleep.