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Wild Things

The most ridiculously convoluted, over-the-top thriller this side of Color Of Night, Wild Things is the sort of shameless sleazefest in which dying a bloody, on-screen death early on actually increases a character's chance of making it to the end of the film. Set in an upper-class Florida town, Wild Things tells the story of a handsome, morally questionable high-school guidance counselor (Matt Dillon) whose life seems to fall apart after two of his students—wealthy, gorgeous Denise Richards and grunged-up, downtrodden Neve Campbell—accuse him of rape. What follows is a stylishly decadent voyeur's delight: As if paying retribution for the understated tone of his previous films, director John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, Normal Life) fills Wild Things with group sex, gratuitous nudity, graphic violence, an abundance of authentically sweaty Florida atmosphere, and more plot twists than a season's worth of Melrose Place. For the first half hour or so, it's entertaining trash: Everything is perfectly pitched just past hysteria, and Wild Things boasts hilariously campy supporting turns from Theresa Russell, Robert Wagner, and Bill Murray, who steals every scene he's in as Dillon's morally bankrupt yet strangely lovable lawyer. After the exposition ends and the double-crossing begins, however, the film quickly loses steam, degenerating into a drearily familiar thriller, long on implausible plot twists and short on sympathetic characters or credible dialogue. Much of the problem lies in Dillon's pale, wooden performance in the lead role: The part seems to call for effortless, bohemian, slightly sleazy charm, but Dillon plays the character as a clueless, charisma-free jock. The film almost redeems itself with what may be the longest, most elaborate post-film/pre-credits sequence in film history, but it will still disappoint anyone expecting more than watchable trash.

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