In his brief turn as "Jingle" Dell, a Christmas-obsessed loon in David Lynch's lovers-on-the-lam road movie Wild At Heart, Crispin Glover wears a filthy Santa suit in July, puts live cockroaches in his underwear, and stays up all night frantically making sandwiches. His character barely even qualifies as tangential: He appears in a self-contained flashback that could have been elided without anyone noticing. Yet Glover's inclusion in the final cut says everything about the film, which splashes together its surreal excesses without distinguishing between the vivid and the gratuitous. Lynch's eccentricities are most effective when channeled into disciplined thriller plotting, as they were in Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. But working in a genre without limits, he turns Wild At Heart into an overripe repository of gothic grotesques, superfluous flashbacks and vignettes, and references to Elvis and The Wizard Of Oz. Lynch unbound on America's back roads leads to several unfortunate detours, but it also opens up possibilities that are thrillingly unpredictable and alive with moon-eyed romanticism.
Like much of Lynch's work, Wild At Heart follows the plight of innocent heroes in an evil world, though in this case, the innocents are a pair of sex-crazed lovers skipping parole. Cloaked in his signature snakeskin jacket ("a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom"), Elvis-loving hipster Nicolas Cage adores sexpot Laura Dern, but her mother, a deranged Southern belle played by Diane Ladd, will stop at nothing to keep them apart. After serving time for killing a would-be assassin hired by Ladd, Cage is released from jail, and he and Dern head for New Orleans, tailed by seasoned bloodhound Harry Dean Stanton and numerous hired guns directed by the ruthless J.E. Freeman. (The new DVD comes with a helpful flowchart of the assorted sleazebags whom Ladd sics on Cage in order to cover up a dark family secret.)
As a couple, Cage and Dern are Lynch's bizarre conceptualization of cool, just as pure and old-fashioned in their language and affections as Dern and Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet, but upgraded into modern, free-spirited sex bunnies. With Cage doing his Elvis shtick and Dern's sensualist heroine frequently melting into ecstasy, the pair seems lost to their mannerisms at times, but Lynch gives them a grand romantic destiny—helped along by the lushest of Angelo Badalamenti scores—that's hard to resist. Traversing the hellscape of Lynch's imagination, which culminates in a spectacularly creepy appearance by Willem Dafoe, Cage and Dern are so embattled that the "end of the rainbow" comes as transcendently sweet relief.