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Serial killers and extraterrestrials aside, the biggest threat in Hollywood’s version of contemporary America is the beautiful teenage heiress. She can get you framed (Palmetto), shot (Twilight), or even worse, as in the new high-school pulper Wild Things. But at least you’ll probably get to see her breasts.
Denise Richards, Kevin Bacon, Theresa Russell, and Neve Campbell are all on display in Wild Things, although the first three reveal more than the Scream and Party of Five star. As the much-shown trailer has already divulged, director John (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) McNaughton’s wet-scheme flick is the tale of three kinky conspirators: Sam (Matt Dillon) is a conscientious, much-loved guidance counselor at south Florida’s Blue Bay High School, Kelly (former Starship Trooper Richards) is a spoiled, flirtatious rich girl, and Suzie (Campbell) is a goth chick from the wrong side of the swamp. The mostly upscale Blue Bay seems a pleasant place, but whatever could McNaughton be trying to say with his recurring shots of alligators?
Kelly and then Suzie accuse the philandering but chivalrous Sam of rape, and police detective Ray (Bacon) buys their stories. Their case comes apart in court, however, when it turns out that the love-struck Kelly really just wanted to punish Sam for sleeping with her wealthy, bored, promiscuous mom (Russell) and that Suzie is her perjury pal. Mom and her ridiculously uptight lawyer (Robert Wagner) seethe while Sam and his ridiculously laid-back lawyer (Bill Murray) cheer. Then Sam celebrates his vindication by having a three-way in a sleazy motelwith Kelly and Suzie.
This seems like plenty of narrative for a teen noir, but there’s much more. Now we’re beyond the developments depicted in the trailer, so it’s taboo to continue summarizing. Let’s just note that Stephen Peters’ script has so much plot that it needs footnotes: The machinations are still grinding in scenes interspersed with the end credits. In fact, Wild Things has so much plot that many viewers may weary of the twistsespecially since some of the developments involve deceptions in which the characters conspire not against each other but against the audience. Like its over-30 equivalent, Palmetto, McNaughton’s film takes the viewer for a chump.
For those filmgoers anticipating something more cerebral than shots of Richards in (and out of) bathing suits, lacy bras, and wet T-shirts, Wild Things is indeed a con. The movie is fairly upfront about what it offers, however: semi-nudity and light bisexuality, with a side order of intrigue and heavy-handed music cues. When the skimpily clad Kelly and a similarly dressed pal hose each other down, the soundtrack blares a tune called “I Want What I Want.” If that’s what you want, too, don’t let the movie’s lack of style, nuance, or smarts keep you away.
While John Woo goes Hollywood and Wong Kar-Wai shoots in Beijing, Jackie Chan has apparently chosen Australia as his post-Hong Kong haven. Mr. Nice Guy is his second film (following last year’s First Strike) set predominantly in Oz, and both Chan and Melbourne prove engaging. The movie’s other elements, however, are fairly dreary.
This aptly titled action-comedy, Chan’s first to be shot predominantly in English, plays on the actor’s nice-guy appeal, casting him as a TV chef (functionally named Jackie) who just happens to have remarkable acrobatic and kung fu skills. Jackie promised his ex-cop culinary partner that he would live a safe, quiet life, but he’s forced to break that vow when he happens upon Diana (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick), a TV reporter who has just shot a video of a conclave between a local youth gang and the city’s leading mobsters. Representatives of both groups are chasing Diana, and after Jackie helps her escape he becomes another of the various thugs’ targets.
The customary confusion stitches together the movie’s action set pieces. The gangsters end up with a video of one of Jackie’s cooking shows instead of the tape they want, and in fact neither Diana nor Jackie knows where the original cassette has gone. In a bid to exchange her for the tape, the bad guys kidnap Jackie’s girlfriend Miki (Miki Lee), and the police bungle Jackie’s attempt to rescue her. So Jackie must face the kidnappers alone, armed only with such improvised weapons as a jar of red peppers.
Mr. Nice Guy was directed by Chan’s boyhood friend Samo Hung (they attended a grueling Peking Opera school together), who also directed several earlier, small-budget Chan movies. Hung gives himself a slapstick cameo as a bicycling bystander who’s briefly drawn into the fighting, and he helps himself to some of Wong Kar-Wai’s smeary slo-mo, which seems incongruous in such a utilitarian flick. He also shows his customary flair for elaborately choreographed action, notably during a construction-site brawl that makes expert use of a buzz saw and a cement mixer. The monster-truck mass destruction of the bombastic final scene, however, is tedious Hollywood-style juvenilia.
As in all his recent work, Chan conserves his energy for a few sequences; the movie doesn’t attempt the nonstop action of the actor’s younger days. That would be fine, if only scripters Edward Tang and Fibe Ma had devised something to fill the down time; the less of his plotting and dialogue the better. Tiresomely, Jackie’s three female co-stars are depicted as utterly vulnerable: Diana is forced to rush into the streets in her underwear, Jackie’s assistant Lakeisha (Karen McLymont) complicates one escape with her acrophobia, and Miki does little more than call, “Jackie!” Mr. Nice Guy would have been much more diverting if Chan and Hung had traded that monster-truck finale back to Hollywood in exchange for an action-worthy former colleague, Supercop and Tomorrow Never Dies star Michelle Yeoh. She’s too cool for James Bond, and the aging Chan could clearly use the help.CP