The new young movie stars, many of them from television, have a slightly eerie, smoother-than-life confidence, an airbrushed placidity that seems to emerge from the unlined, almost generic beauty of their faces. They appear to have sprung from perfect gene pools, and so do their personalities, which are free of the conflicts and spiritual wrinkles that have always creased the charisma of major movie stars. At the same time, they may be that much more nonchalant when it comes to the portrayal of sexuality.

In Wild Things (Columbia), a tricky-bordering-on-gimmicky film noir with a glaze of soft-core kink, Neve Campbell, who glided through The Craft and the two Screams with such unfussy finesse that she threatened to disappear on screen, makes a far punchier impact in what might be described as the Fairuza Balk role. She’s Suzie, a grunged-out, bad-dye-job, druggie-dysfunctional rebel loser who lives in a dilapidated trailer behind her parents’ home on the wrong side of Blue Bay, a posh South Florida yachting resort. Denise Richards, from Starship Troopers, is Suzie’s spoiled-rich-girl rival, Kelly, an heiress with the pouty lips of a party doll and an attitude of brazen do-me recklessness that leads her to compete with her bored-slut mother (Theresa Russell). The two girls are united when both accuse a high school guidance counselor, Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon), of rape. Sam enjoys a reputation as a dockside stud, but early on, the hot-to-trot Kelly, clad in one of a series of soaked-to-the-skin outfits, just about rapes him. That’s enough to let you know that there’s more to this trio than meets the eye.

Who’s plotting, and sleeping, with whom? The fun of Wild Things is that here, as in the 1990 Curtis Hanson thriller Bad Influence (or the more recent Bound), the casual acceptance of bisexuality expands the movie formally, multiplying the possibilities for collusion and double cross. The director, John McNaughton, throws in one too many symbolic shots of alligators (they’re predators — get it?), but he achieves a sweat-and-champagne atmosphere that sucks you right in.

Dillon, who still has his baby-faced adolescent creaminess, gives an amusing performance as a sweetheart lady-killer who acts just dim enough to leave you wondering if he’s smarter than he looks. Kevin Bacon, as a wily cop, parades his rotting charm with gusto, and he’s featured in a moment of full-frontal nudity that seems gratuitously daring for a studio thriller. It left me wondering why the film didn’t go further with its bisexual implications — as if such activities are encouraged only when they involve babelicious lesbians. Wild Things isn’t nearly as wild as it pretends to be, but it does prove that a little erotic nastiness always looks good, especially on the most unblemished of stars. B — Owen Gleiberman


Wild Things STARRING Matt Dillon Neve Campbell RATED R 113 MINUTES

Wild Things
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