Wild Things is an aptly named potboiler from the late ’90s, a film that made headlines for its splashy sex scenes and twisty tale of intrigue back in its day. Starring a mostly knockout cast of Neve Campbell, Denise Richards, Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon, the film is part crime thriller, part campy satire and part soap-tastic melodrama.
The film opens at a high school in fictional Blue Bay, Fla., a ritzy community bordering on rural swamp, setting the scene for the sweaty drama to come. Smarmy guidance counselor Sam (Matt Dillon) is trying to sleep his way up the social ladder while staving off the advances of rich, bratty Kelly (Denise Richards) and bayou girl Suzie (Neve Campbell).
Both girls accuse him of sexual assault, which leads to a dramatic rape trial and Sam’s expulsion from every social circle in town. It’s played up with all the subtlety of an overblown after-school special, with the distinct undertone that all is not as it seems in the town of Blue Bay.
And indeed, it isn’t. During the court case, Sam’s bumbling lawyer (Bill Murray in a small but hilarious role) gets Suzie to admit that the whole accusation was faked, a teenage plot to enact revenge on the man Sam and Kelly feel rejected them both.
Sam then successfully sues Kelly’s millionaire mother, causing police Sgt. Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) to suspect that the whole event was a setup, a ploy to rip off the mother’s money and share it among the three of them. Much to the disdain of his partner, Det. Gloria Perez (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Duquette begins to poke around, following Sam and harassing the girls at their respective homes.
From here, the movie takes a wildly different direction. While the first half plays out like a candy-colored melodrama, the second half of Wild Things pulls the viewer into an ever-intensifying web of deceit. Splitting the narrative between Duquette’s investigations and the plotting of the co-conspirators, we find out that the entire crime was nothing more than a well-acted scam, and the three are planning to run off to the Caribbean with the loot.
Kelly, Suzie and Sam celebrate with the infamous threesome scene (aka the reason most people remember Wild Things in the first place). Things begin to spiral out of control as Duquette figures out what’s going on and starts to manipulate the situation, turning the girls against one another and Sam. Before you can say “gratuitous shot of Denise Richards exiting a pool,” the body count begins to climb.
If it sounds muddled, be assured that the film is actually quite easy to follow. The pacing is absolutely spot-on, as the layers of deception and connections between characters peel away one-by-one. It’s fun to guess and second-guess exactly who is connected to whom, and to see who gets their comeuppance in the end. In this respect, Wild Things is a highly successful thriller.
Likewise, for a film centered on rape and murder, it’s quite funny. Bill Murray’s depiction of Ken, the cheap lawyer, is classic, and Theresa Russell’s over-the-top performance as Kelly’s bitchy, nymphomaniac mother hits the perfect note between camp and pure satire. The funky George S. Clinton score adds to the lightness of the atmosphere, continually reassuring the viewer that everything here is very tongue-in-cheek.