The City of Absurdity   WILD AT HEART


By Desson Howe

Washington Post Staff Writer, August 17, 1990

David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" is "Twin Peaks" without the FCC on its back. If "Peaks" hinted at menace and a world gone wrong, "Wild" rubs your face in it, rushes along the freedom fuse of cinema, flaring at every turn.

You'll see a lot of fire. Matches, burned homes, more matches, a man burning to death, a car falling from a cliff before bursting into flames. This is hellfire unrestrained, incendiary poetry, playfully, wittily and menacingly done – for the first half.

But then, as if Lynch packed the firewood too loosely, or threw all his logs into the fire, things flare up then die down. Rapidly. The movie's initial intensity is so great, it consumes itself. By the time we reach the final scene, which is clearly supposed to exude glorious rapture between offbeat lovers Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern, it has all the warming effect of cold ash.

As those lovers, in this explosive, hipster spin on "Bonnie and Clyde," Cage and Dern are right on the money. Cage, the second weirdest American male working in the movies today (hey, nobody can out-weird Crispin Glover – who's also in the movie), has certainly proved his eccentric mettle in the past. Here, he's Sailor Ripley, an oddly endearing kid, who lives for Elvis and his snakeskin jacket, but mostly for girlfriend Lula (Dern), a goofily sensual, chainsmoking white-trash rebel princess.

After Sailor kills someone brutally, but in self-defense, Dern's demented mother (played by Dern's real mother, Diane Lane) vows that Sailor will never see her daughter again. When the couple escapes south, she hires her detective-boyfriend (Harry Dean Stanton) and a mafioso old flame to kill Sailor and bring her baby back. But when Sailor and Lula go on the run, so does the movie.

For stalwart Lynch fans, the initial intensity (which includes a fantastic music score, from symphonic to raucous) may have enough momentum to keep them going till the end. But they will probably agree that Lynch saved all his best stuff for earlier. Not only does the pace slow down, but all those fiery images become repetitive; even the tremendous one-liners throughout the movie, suddenly seem to be Lynched into Far Side cuteness.

"This whole world is wild at heart and weird on top," says Dern, late in the movie. By that time, she seems to be wistfully reminding us of the roller coaster, driving experience that the movie set out with.

Lynch has also felt compelled to douse the movie (which took the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes this year) with an unending flood of references to "The Wizard of Oz." After the sixth or seventh time, they begin to reach brain-clubbing annoyance. Lynch would have done well to ignore that old man behind the curtain.

The press kit to "Wild" claims Lynch was so excited about Barry Gifford's original novel, he wrote an adaptation of it (before it was published) in six days. But only God can do massive feats in six days and even He needs a rest. Lynch, however, went straight into production.

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© Mike Hartmann