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SOMETHING WILD

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This offbeat comedy recently received a Blu-ray-special edition upgrade from the Criterion Collection. Here’s my Deseret News review, published Nov. 7, 1986. And in retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t cite — or even name — Ray Liotta, who gives terrifying performance as Melanie Griffith’s violent, ex-con husband.

Jonathan Demme has proved adept at directing screwball comedy with “Melvin and Howard,” and he provided nail-biting suspense with the underrated and little-seen “Last Embrace.”

So now he has a new movie with both.

The blend isn’t always successful, and in that regard “Something Wild” at times reminded me of John Landis’ “Into the Night,” which has some similar themes. But “Something Wild” has a genuine offbeat charm to it that manages to compensate for a heck of a lot. And it really doesn’t lose its way until it shifts too darkly toward being a suspense-thriller in the final third or so.

The theme is not unfamiliar, and actually harkens all the way back to “Bringing Up Baby,” with zany Katharine Hepburn taking staid professor Cary Grant on the wild ride of his life. (And it probably goes back further than that.)

But, it’s still a good theme in the right hands, and Demme’s are certainly the right hands … most of the way.

Jeff Daniels, the actor and character-come-to-life in “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” and Melanie Griffith, who played the female lead in “Body Double,” are the stars here.

Daniels is a straight-arrow vice president in a prestigious Manhattan tax-consulting agency who likes to do little things he shouldn’t, such as leave restaurants without paying the bill or steal candy bars while standing in the grocery checkout line.

     

From left: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta, Margaret Colin

Griffith spots him as he leaves a restaurant without paying and lures him into her car, calling him a “closet rebel.” She’s a wild and crazy gal, but we’re not quite sure what to think of her for the first little while, and it’s rather late into the film before all the questions are answered.

Before the weekend is over, Daniels will find himself pretending to be Griffith’s husband — not just in general, but for her mother — as well as going to her 10-year high school reunion and having all kids of other zany, crazy and dangerous encounters.

But giving too much of the plot away here will spoil the surprises, which are numerous and frequently hilarious in a very quirky way.

In the final third, however, when the tone of the film shifts to dangerous ground and gets very tense, it’s simply too stark. We just aren’t prepared enough for it. Demme has kept us on edge throughout the film, but it’s a different kind of edginess. When the suspense builds and the shocks occur, the audience is likely to be thrown off too far — especially considering the oddly old-fashioned ending that is tacked on afterward.

     

Despite all these misgivings, however (and the R-rated nudity, sex, profanity and violence), there is an awful lot to admire here.

“Something Wild” boasts some wonderful performances, especially from the leads. Jeff Daniels is the perfect personification of the everyday normal guy who is suddenly whisked up into things over which he has absolutely no control. And Melanie Griffith manages to make her kooky character fully developed and touching, rather than just a superficial nut. Hers is perhaps the most difficult role in the piece, and she’s terrific.

Also interesting are a number of in-jokes, people with zany reputations playing incredibly straight characters — such as Tracey Walter as a British liquor store salesman and John Waters as a used car salesman.

And the toe-tapping, slightly wacked-out score, by such people as Laurie Anderson (“Home of the Brave”) and David Byrne of the Talking Heads, is also quite good.