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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.9%
Worth A Look29.85%
Just Average: 8.96%
Pretty Crappy: 10.45%

4 reviews, 43 user ratings

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Wild at Heart
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by Jack Sommersby

"Horrendous 'Heart'"
1 stars

To those who insist David Lynch can do no wrong, you're living in some very serious denial.

Coming off his extraordinary, groundbreaking 1986 masterpiece Blue Velvet, the atrocious Wild at Heart is a major disappointment coming from a writer/director as irrefutably talented as David Lynch. It's an adaptation of a compulsively-readable novel by Barry Gifford, and Lynch himself shares the sole screenwriting credit, which he's more than welcome to being that we couldn't care less about either the story or the characters -- they lack the beautiful organic clarity that Blue Velvet had in spades; and you can't really blame the actors for the dire character base because they're basically playing cutouts rather than people, with only two of the talented thespians managing to come through. Gifford's novel contained brief chapters and an array of vivid characters who leapt right off the page, but the film is frustratingly disjointed and just plain incoherent, lacking any semblances of connective tissue tying the various plot elements together. Instead of adhering to anything indicative of narrative, Lynch just throws in a barrage of ultra-weirdness for the sole sake of doing so to keep the audience's attention in the most sensationalistic, sophomoric way. Where the kinky sex and graphic violence in Blue Velvet sprung straight from it's maker's dark subconscious, here they simply come off as extraneous -- they're not rooted in anything we can get a mental foothold on, and don't strike into and challenge our imaginations the way they should. Perhaps Lynch found himself straight-jacketed in trying to adhere to an old-fashioned road-movie template, just as he was similarly constricted to an action/sci-fi one in his calamitous Dune, which one derived absolutely zero moviegoing pleasure from. But this in itself isn't reason enough for Lynch to have failed here as miserably as he has because he managed to pull off a major triumph just six months prior with his fantastically out-there TV series Twin Peaks -- those who thought Lynch couldn't possibly discipline himself to a television format without sacrificing his innate quirkiness were brought up short, myself among them. (It's one of the few times I was agog over being proven completely wrong.) It's almost as if Lynch felt the need to excise all the R-rated gruesomeness out of his system with Wild at Heart like an alcoholic needs to get their built-up angst out during an AA meeting; and the trouble is he hasn't found any viable groundwork to take off from -- just about everything in this ruinous debacle lacks verve and purpose, and reeks of dire desperation.

The opening credits play out over an extreme-close-up of a match being lit and then a raging fire, and Lynch constantly uses this as a motif throughout. Further on down the line we understand the basis for it as it figures into the story, but not really why the insistent use of it. (Is he juvenilely using it to point up that we're supposed to be watching a sordid, torrid tale?) In the first scene we're introduced to one Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) as he brutally kills a thug who pulls a knife on him in front of plenty of onlookers at a crowded ball; before his untimely, perfectly-gruesome demise (his head is literally bashed to pulp against a marble floor) he tells Sailor that he's been paid to kill him by one Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd), the evil mother of Lulu (Laura Dern), Sailor's girlfriend who also witnesses the killing. Sailor is arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in prison for manslaughter; when he gets out, the first thing he does is call Lulu, much to the chagrin of momma, who warns him she'll have him killed if he doesn't disappear. He doesn't, and he and the rebellious Lula are soon hightailing it over the state line of South Carolina for California, and on the way they encounter a wide assortment of weirdoes; added to which, Marietta hires private detective and sometime-lover Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) to track them down, along with employing the use of underworld contract killer Marcel Santos (J. E. Freeman) to take Sailor out without making mention of this to honest-to-the-bone Johnnie. In turn, Santos involves the services of his employer, Mr. Reindeer (W. Morgan Sheppard), who in turn involves his own array of assassins in the matter, issuing contracts on both Sailor and Johnny (who Santos fears will find out what they're up to with Mr. Reindeer, though exactly what is never clarified). Already there's too much plot playing out, and Lynch doesn't bother developing any of it -- he merely presents the tail-ends of it while in a rush to throw in even more superfluous succotash to keep you off balance; and it doesn't take long before we find the proceedings dragging and our stake in the goings-on waning by the minute. Contextually, Wild at Heart is an unfettered mess, an amorphous miasma of third-rate ingredients that are not only mishandled but not handled at all. And as a road movie it fails at the mere task of getting any visual mileage out of the various cities our hero and heroine visit along the way: when they're in a bar in New Orleans' French Quarter district, for all the pallid texture they might as well be in a McDonalds. Lynch doesn't have anything invested in this area; it's as shopworn and alien to him as the quietly-creepy, white-picket-fenced small-town neighborhoods in Blue Velvet spoke to him on a level all his own.

As borderline-unwatchable and unctuous as the mega-budget Dune played out (the entire first half was nothing but boring exposition, and by the time the film needed to kick into high gear there were only about fifteen minutes left in the running time) it at least boasted spectacular production design and cinematography (without them, half of Lynch's fans would have probably walked out). With Wild at Heart, Lynch hasn't lent much of a visual interpretation onto the material, and what little there is of it is drab and inexpressive, which is a shame because Frederick Elmes, who did the award-winning lighting in Blue Velvet, was behind the camera again. Yes, there are a few widescreen compositions that are snazzy (Lynch is one of the all-time masters at shooting in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio), but what's being framed within their parameters is no big deal; if anything, they only end up calling attention to and accentuating the vapidity of the material -- the framing outclasses what's being photographed by a long mile. With Blue Velvet you always sensed that Lynch was "keeping the picture in his head" as he went along, whereas in Wild at Heart you're hard-pressed at coming up with a single solitary element that Lynch has committed even a single valid thought to, except the desire to repulse. We get shots of flies on vomit on a motel-room floor, an aborted fetus, both a hand and a head blown off by a shotgun at close range, and many more desperate images. On the other side of the spectrum, we get mindlessly-sexist shots of topless young female slaves to Mr. Reindeer who cater to his every need (in one nauseating scene, he sits on a toilet talking on the phone while one is holding a bottle of Pepto-Bismol on a serving tray); and speaking of the almighty throne, in the film's nadir (which is saying something, believe me), when Marietta and Sailor are talking in a restroom stall and she tells him that he's "a shit," Lynch, showing the instinct more of an Edward D. Wood than an Orson Welles, cuts to a shot of a toilet, and with a milky film on top, at that. No doubt Lynch would proudly aver that he's the one who's got it going on, and it's only the priggish and square-minded who aren't open enough to be receptive to his twisted humor; the problem, however, is he's spewing random, disassociated images that haven't an iota of graphic vitality -- everything's rushed and rancid, and none of it sticks in your mind like the menacing-looking radiator in Eraserhead, the luscious thick fog in the B/W-shot The Elephant Man, the tantalizing, gruesomely-mutated villains in Dune.

Lynch has enough imagination for a dozen filmmakers, but having taken on a project that doesn't really speak to him on his own special wavelength, he doesn't have the right outlet to properly channel it, which is why just about everything he attempts comes up goose eggs. That is, until the character of Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) appears on the screen, and thanks to Dafoe's ferocious intensity and concentrated energy, the film gets a much-needed kick. Sailor and Lulu take a detour and stop in the dilapidated small Texas town of Big Tuna -- Sailor, because he needs to drop in on a past small-time crime associate to see whether a hit's been put out on him (nonsensical when you think about it in that he could've just kept driving to California where no one would've been able to trace him), and Lula, because she isn't feeling well (it turns out she's pregnant, which must be a record time for morning sickness to arise being that she's only been with Sailor, and Sailor's only been out of jail a few days) -- where they meet the black-clothes-clad Bobby at the low-rent motel they're staying at. With a John Waters-like thin mustache, slicked-back greasy hair, and a pair of rotten yellowed teeth that would make the mightiest dentist in the world gasp in sheer horror, the character is obviously modeled after Dennis Hopper's legendary villain Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, and Dafoe plays him to the hilt. A psychotic ex-Marine, Bobby practically oozes subterranean slime, and when he corners Lula in her room while Sailor's out, grabs her and mouths the F-word to her repeatedly to the point where it soon becomes slightly erotic in the most perverse kind of way, it's like someone soiling a white wedding dress with motor oil. With guts and gusto, Dafoe gives a smashingly unapologetic performance -- it rings so alarmingly true that we wish we hadn't had to wait so long for the pleasure to come across him, which is just another of Lynch's major miscalculations. The other evildoers served up for us before this are wanly unaffecting, and that goes for a spaced-out female assassin with a clubfoot. (Why a clubfoot, you ask? Easy -- because it's odd, that's why! Who needs a kitchen sink thrown in?) Lynch is basically saying the world is one ugly place, and that only soul mates Sailor and Lula's deep-seated love for each other is capable of penetrating and conquering that darkness. But, again, due to the shoddy writing, the romance angle never comes alive.

It also doesn't help that Nicolas Cage is too over-the-top and Laura Dern simply isn't sexy enough. As he demonstrated in Valley Girl and Moonstruck, Cage can be a considerable romantic lead because he's willing to be emotionally vulnerable and has the know-how to sidestep bathos; but, modeling Sailor's voice after Elvis Presley and having dyed his hair an unappealing black, he's uncouth and abrasive -- you've no clue what effect he's going for, and as a result he's very hard to take. It's a stunt piece of acting that's all exteriors and nil in the nuance department. Dern's performance is considerably better (there's a wonderful moment where Lula freaks out while driving when she can't get anything on the radio but news reports of tragic events), but she's not a particularly strong screen presence, and exotically and erotically is a big zero. She could get away with her non-magnetism in Blue Velvet because she was playing the goody-good girl next door who didn't need to radiate carnality, but trying to play a hot twenty-year-old with an insatiable sexual appetite is beyond her -- when she says dirty words in bed it's as if she were an understudy trying to prove her muster while the real lead actress were on her lunch break. Maybe Cage and Dern could act in the same picture effectively enough, but not one-on-one -- they just don't match up right and exude much in the way of chemistry. So with a defunct romantic center the film is handicapped even further by its paltry story and puerile plotting. There's a pointless subplot involving Sailor's unwitting involvement and Marietta's complicit involvement with Santos in Lula's father's death, which consisted of him dying in a house fire, which is presented to us in flashbacks and doesn't really go anywhere. Even more pointless flashbacks involve: ultimate oddball Crispen Glover playing Lula's schizophrenic cousin who has an affinity for making hundreds of sandwiches at night and putting cockroaches in his underwear; and Lula's close family friend "Uncle Pooch" having raped and impregnated her when she was a young teen. We're perplexed why Bobby, who it's revealed has been contracted by Mr. Reindeer, doesn't just take Sailor out rather than involving him in a dumb robbery of a feed store with the plan to take him out afterward; why, if they're so hell-bent on getting to California, don't Sailor and Lula just sell their spacious red convertible to pay for travel there instead of hanging out in Big Tuna with just forty bucks between them; and so on.

There's nothing worse than a director who can be effortlessly masterful yet has chosen to sublimate his better instincts just to get a feature film made even when his creative juices aren't percolating. Scene after scene Lynch goes for easy effects, whether it's a strange man slowly mouthing, "My dawwwwwg barks some," flat-out embarrassing visual and aural references to The Wizard of Oz (Marietta's the evil witch and Sheryl Lee, the wonderful actress who played the tragic victim Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, is the good one who's seen in Sailor's dreams), the overreliance on blaring, hard-pounding music to try to juice things up, and even going so far as showcasing three very obese women naked and hooting and hollering outside in a motel courtyard for all to see. (That's why Harry Dean Stanton's underplayed, touching work as Johnnie is a welcome diversion. It's a shame when his character meets an untimely demise because he's the only identifiable person in the entire film.) There are some minor pluses to be had. Though Lynch didn't have his usual dandy sound designer, the Oscar-nominated Alan Splet, Randy Thom comes up with some nice effects, some of which are appropriately gruesome (the sound of a bashed-in head yanked off a floor is enough to make you heave) and some incisively attention-getting (a jail door slamming shut echoes with a real macabre punch). And in the best scene, Sailor and Lula come across a wrecked car on a highway at night where a late-teens daughter whose parents have been killed aimlessly walks around talking panicked gibberish as she slowly dies from a head wound -- when she expires while lying on the ground and blood comes up from her mouth, you're emotionally spent and feel like you're at a real piece of cinema. But the vast majority of Wild at Heart couldn't be more tired and tedious. Lynch recycles half-realized bits that aren't in any way congruent and collective with one another. Seeing Blue Velvet for the first time, everything flowed together with such assuredness that I was positively convinced there couldn't have been a single excised scene left on the cutting-room floor; it was as unified a genuine whole as I ever witnessed in a theatre. Unfortunately, Wild at Heart is mindless junk with asinine aspects in search of a reason for being, helmed by a gifted but wildly-inconsistent filmmaker who apparently can't see the forest from the trees -- or the magnificent from the hopelessly despicable.

If one's interested, the special-edition DVD does boast a first-rate picture and numerous extras.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2495&reviewer=327
originally posted: 11/15/11 01:28:23
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User Comments

3/13/18 R.A.M. Elephant Man won 0 Oscars out of 8 nominations. Accuracy in your reviews is important. 3 stars
1/30/17 Louise Gratuitously violent, self-indulgent rubbish. Left the cinema after 20 mins. 1 stars
8/03/14 D. The R. Like Michael Cimino, Lynch implodes when given free reign. A repulsive mess of a movie. 1 stars
11/16/11 Terence A. Martell Flies on Cage's shit make better film. You can smell Cage from screen. Lynch's folly. 1 stars
11/16/11 the truth mmm laura dern uuuh nic cage 3 stars
6/10/11 Jack Lantern Lynch's worst by far. Watch the rest. Skip this. 2 stars
5/26/10 Brady Frightening, Surreal, Dreamy 5 stars
12/23/09 Jeff Wilder A step down from Blue Velvet. But still worth seeing if you can handle Lynch. 4 stars
11/15/08 brian The emperor has no clothes. 2 stars
7/18/07 John Kaczynski Full of cliched dialogue, one dimensional characters, and a script that drags on forever 2 stars
7/10/07 fools♫gold A favorite, witty reference-y love film. 5 stars
6/09/07 Bob "A rockin' good time". Back before Cage started accepting *all* scripts too! 5 stars
12/30/06 mr.mike didn't thrill me , not one of lynch's best 3 stars
10/26/06 Isaac Baranoff Cool. Unique. If it's Lynch, it's good. 5 stars
8/22/06 Sepi53 interesting, weird, different but OK 4 stars
7/11/05 Tom Benton Gritty, weird, and wacky fun from the great David Lynch. 4 stars
6/04/04 MyGreenBed A deeply flawed mess with some interesting scenes, but compared to post-Wild it's great. 3 stars
6/02/04 Graham Curtis Lynch is God 5 stars
2/26/04 Ninke bizzare and funny 5 stars
2/17/04 john interessting in parts but unengaging and ultimately pointless 2 stars
1/30/04 jmsynth Hard to watch at times, but this flick influenced some of the best flicks of the 90s 4 stars
7/29/03 R.W. Welch Has a flaky flair that just manages to hold you til the kicky finale. 4 stars
6/28/03 Jon Lyrik I wasn't sure to laugh or go "Huh?". Some cool scenes but pretty subpar film. 3 stars
5/23/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back, Mo'Fos!) @ 1st, I thought it was spoofing itself, but then it just got too fucked up in the head. 2 stars
12/31/02 Jack Sommersby Obscene just for obscenity's sake. A real cinematic shit stain. 1 stars
10/22/02 Charles Tatum Seriously bad 1 stars
8/07/02 I Can't Swim Egregious bag of snot courtesy of the most annoying actors alive, Cage & Dern 1 stars
3/20/02 The Man One of a kind. Most bizarre film I've seen. Don't watch with mommy 5 stars
2/18/02 Edwin Wendy, wanna a sweet, suck yer feet 5 stars
1/26/02 Wendy Jane Torrance Laura Dern, gutsy actress willing to take chances, gambled and lost this time. Yucky movie 1 stars
11/27/01 Ian Barr Cool, but not Lynch's best. Love the bank robbery scene! 5 stars
11/04/01 E-Funk Interesting Lynch film. Cage and Dern fuck like bunnies and....yeah 4 stars
8/19/01 hemmingway_bg Twin Peaks Lite 2 stars
5/30/01 Walter Provo Badly overrated and quite hypocritical film 2 stars
3/15/01 Elvisfan I loved "Blue Velvet" but this one is off the charts, even for Lynch 1 stars
3/07/01 Mike Lynch is God! 5 stars
2/20/01 Rocket Boy Outrageous, hilarious. 5 stars
12/13/00 TEKNO TODD Cage, Lynch, Sex, Violence...YES!!! 4 stars
11/07/00 Jon Axt perfect 5 stars
11/03/00 perverted pixie In that torture scene I had my hands over my eyes- and I've seen Reservior Dogs! 5 stars
7/11/00 Jami Not one of my favorite Lynch films, but still quite good 3 stars
11/07/99 Chef ADogg Cage's last good films; Lynch's only one. 4 stars
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  02-Aug-1990 (R)
  DVD: 07-Dec-2004



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