Denise Richards was a little-known former model and tv guest star when Paul Verhoeven saw her potential and cast her in her breakout role as Lt. Carmen Ibanez in "Starship Troopers" (1997). She basically stole that gory science fiction parable, but the best was yet to come. The following year, she starred in "Wild Things" (1998), an erotic thriller from Mandalay Entertainment directed by John McNaughton, which has entered the portals of voyeurism's Hall of Fame due to Denise's sizzling turn as Kelly Van Ryan, a spoiled rich brat turned bad.
Florida high school guidance counselor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) is falsely accused of rape by two nubile students, Kelly Van Ryan and Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell). He hires ambulance chaser Kenneth Bowden (Bill Murray) to clear him, and the case proceeds to trial. Suzie, however, breaks down on the stand and admits that she and Kelly made everything up in order to get even with Lombardo for his affair with Kelly's mother and for not bailing Suzie out when she was locked up on a minor drug charge. Kelly's mother (Theresa Russell) is humiliated, and Lombardo has Bowden bring and settle an action for defamation against Kelly's family for $8.5 million, which is paid.
Turns out, though, that Lombardo planned the whole thing with the two girls so that they could pry the money out of Kelly's rich mother. Police Detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) pursues the case, and decides to rattle some cages. He tells Suzie that Lombardo took all the money for himself. She panics, but Kelly calmly says that Lombardo is trustworthy. However, Kelly then phones Lombards and says that Suzie is getting suspicious and may need to be eliminated. Suzie hears this and attacks Kelly, but their fight in the pool turns into a sex session. Duquette has been watching them and takes it all in.
Lombardo and Kelly, though, follow through a few nights later and take Suzie to the beach to kill her, wrapping her body in plastic and throwing it in the trunk of Lombardo's car. Lombardo then throws her body into the swamp.
Duquette then must investigate Suzie's disappearance with his partner, Gloria (Daphne Rubin Vega). They find her blood on the beach and her car at the bus terminal. Duquette confronts Kelly at her house, and she attacks him, shooting him in the arm. Duquette returns fire and kills her, leading to his dismissal from the police force.
It then becomes apparent that Lombardo and Duquette were working together all along. Duquette was only supposed to wound Kelly, not kill her. They resolve their differences and go sailing on Lombardo's sailboat the next day, where Lombardo takes them out to sea and then knocks Duquette overboard. It then turns out that Suzie wasn't killed after all, she was hiding in the boat. When Duquette manages to climb back on the boat, Suzie shoots and kills Duquette with a spear gun in revenge for killing another friend of hers years before.
It then appears as if Suzie and Lombardo will sail off into the sunset together, but Suzie poisons Lombardo, knocks him overboard and leaves him in the ocean.
During the end credits, it is shown that Suzie planned the whole thing in order to get the money and kill both Lombardo and Duquette. She had been angry at Lombardo for leaving her in jail. It also is shown that Kelly hadn't attacked Duquette at all, instead he cold-bloodedly killed her and then created his self-defense argument by shooting himself in the leg. We also see that Bowden had divided the money for them.
As convoluted plots go, "Wild Things" is right up there. However, the plot is completely irrelevant to whether you will enjoy "Wild Things." The key is the acting, and it is absolutely stellar all around. Aside from Richards stealing every scene she is in, Neve Campbell manages to get through the film without getting overly emotive, and she plays a fairly convincing bad girl. Bill Murray is hilarious as attorney Bowden, and Robert Wagner stands out in a minor supporting role as Kelly's mother's friend Tom Baxter. The two male leads, Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon, are adequate and carry the story along, but you'll barely notice them aside from their interactions with the girls. This is truly an outstanding ensemble cast, a cast of seasoned pros mixed with a bright-eyed ingenue (Richards).
"Wild Things" is legendary not for the plot, and not for the dramatic acting, and not for the moody background score by George S. Clinton. It is iconic because of the volcanic sexual appeal of Denise Richards at her absolute most stunning, along with the nicely matched Neve Campbell. Unfortunately, while Campbell is a terrific actress, physically she is not in the same league as Richards. There are two scenes, the pool scene and the threesome with Matt Dillon, that are just scorching, but others are great as well (such as the classic shot of Richards leaving a swimming pool). Richards later claimed that she, a good Catholic girl, needed a couple of drinks to go through with the threesome scene. If you aren't expecting Denise Richards to disrobe, when she does you'll hardly be able to believe your eyes.
All that said, "Wild Things" is fine, enjoyable evening fare that is perfect for couples or anyone that wants to see Denise Richards at the peak of her beauty. An uncut version was released in 2006 and is the one to get, adding seven minutes. The director, John McNaughton, claims that he removed a scene for being "gratuitous," and one can only wonder how that differed from 60% of what he left in.
"Wild Things gets four thumbs up and should be on everybody's list of steamy films to watch. The only sad thing about "Wild Things" is that, while several direct-to-video sequels starring others were released, the original stars never got together to film a real sequel. Kevin Bacon was the Executive Producer, and if he put up the financing for "Wild Things" and collected the profits, it was the smartest move he ever made.
Below is the trailer for "Wild Things."