The City of Absurdity   WILD AT HEART


Wizard of Odd

Richard Corliss, Time, August 20, 1990

David Lynch is an industry these days. America's most distinctive moviemaker had directed just four features (Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Dune and Blue Velvet) in a 15-year career, but now he's everywhere. His Twin Peaks brought flaming weirdness to prime-time television. He has directed TV commercials and a 25-minute music video. This fall he is co-producing a documentary series for the Fox network. And here's Wild at Heart, another three-ring freak show that won the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival and serves as an entertaining anthology of Lynch oddities.

Wild at Heart begins with the moody Sailor (Nicolas Cage) bashing a black man's head into pulp. And Sailor is the good guy in this storm-sky fresco of two crazy kids on the run. Sailor and his girlfriend Lula (Laura Dern) hightail it to New Orleans and Texas, where they encounter fat-lady porn stars and a slick psychopath (Willem Dafoe) who loses his head, literally and spectacularly, in a bank heist. To Barry Gifford's source novel Lynch adds a murder plot, an Elvis impersonation, a few torture scenes, a drug cartel, some cockroaches and a happy ending complete with deus ex machina. Not to mention frequent references to The Wizard of Oz, with which Wild has precisely nothing in common.

This handsome, volcanically violent road movie is Lynch's first flat-out comedy; he and his ensemble (including Diane Ladd and Crispin Glover) work at high pitch and have a swell time at it. Wild at Heart is also the first Lynch film in which his motives – to hang a haberdashery of bizarre incidents on the merest hook of plot – are apparent. You might go, ''Ick!'' but you won't ask, ''Huh?'' What's lacking is the old sense of delicious, disturbing mystery. Wild at Heart reveals a master of movie style on his way to becoming a mannerist.

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© Mike Hartmann