AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: 8TH FEBRUARY, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 114 min/ 109 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Young lawyer Emily Reed travels to New York City for an interview with an international law firm, which immediately offers her a job on the condition that she can fly to Rio de Janeiro the following morning. Emily agrees and is introduced to Claudia Dennis, one of the firm’s top executives. They arrive in Rio to finalise the purchase of a hotel, but angry Claudia must fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to meet the hotel’s owner. Claudia instructs Emily to cover her date for the night; a wealthy man named James Wheeler who is quiet and asks personal questions without being demanding or rude. Emily finds herself drawn to this strange man, but doesn’t know how to react to the seemingly free and easy sexuality which is around her….
I must admit, I was a bit surprised when it came to my attention that Eureka Entertainment, a label that has distributed some of the best films by some of the best directors in the world, and a label which has certainly provided me with some wonderful opportunities to both see some great movies that had either previously passed me by or that I hadn’t seen for some time, and to write about them. But Wild Orchid? I vaguely remembered it as being pretty lame, while it doesn’t have a very good reputation, though a glance at the IMDB revealed that it does have a lot of fans, so I did wonder if I had been wrong about the movie back in….well, I guess it was in the early 90’s that I saw it…..and if it would now seem rather good to my [possibly] more mature eyes? But no, Zalman King’s supposedly erotic drama is close to being a load of rubbish quite frankly [sorry Eureka]; lamentably unconvincing, thoroughly stupid, sometimes unintentionally funny, but not really very entertaining, while I didn’t find it sexy whatsoever, which is really the main purpose of an erotic film. Resembling more a music video than a film at times, it does have a nice lush look to it, certainly revealing that King knows what he’s doing technically, and a fine soundtrack, but all the nice shots and catchy beats aren’t really any more than icing on a very bland, tastless cake.
It was written by King and his wife Patricia Louisianna Knop as a sort of follow-up to 9 ½ Weeks, which King had co-written, and I remain steadfast in my opinion that that movie is actually rather good and more intelligent than it has been given credit for. A shame I can’t say that for Wild Orchid. Anyway, the original casting choices were Brooke Shields, Willem Dafoe and Anne Archer, and Archer was even signed to play the Jacqueline Bisset part, but the combination of the script’s sexually explicit nature and simple disagreements caused them to turn it down. It was largely shot on location in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, though the scenes in and around a hotel construction site were filmed in Salvador, Bahia, making use of the actual skeleton of an abandoned hotel that was never completed. While many other countries including the UK got the full version of the film, US cinemas showed a cut which was five minutes shorter. The ‘R’ rated version actually didn’t cut much sex, instead substituting some less explicit shots for the climactic rutting sequence, but removed a few other scenes, notably Wheeler getting Emily to fantasise about another couple, Emily admiring some male torsos on the beach and part of Wheeler’s talk about his past, and I can’t understand why these were cut, especially when a few extra shots here and there also made it into the ‘R’ rated version. Still, the film flopped in the US, but was a major hit in Europe. Two years later King made a semi-sequel, Wild Orchid: Two Shades Of Blue, but this time to little interest.
Wild Orchid is a nice looking film right from the irrelevant title sequence of a man driving a horse-drawn car in intense red, though some shots of planes and New York City are clearly stock footage and all the pops and scratches made me wonder if Wild Orchid had actually been restored at all for Blu-ray until the first lengthy scene begun. We meet our heroine Emily at a meeting, and boy she’s pretty, but it’s evident that Carre Otis can’t act right from the first moment she opens her mouth, her line delivery managing to been truly painful to see and watch, and remember, her character is supposed to be a top graduate from law school with mastery of several languages [she can barely master one]. Otis actually seems drugged for most of the movie, and in no way transmits to the viewer the idea of sexual awakening. Anyway, she’s soon in Rio, cue lots of travelogue shots of the city – in fact, around a third of this movie feels like an advertisement for the Rio Tourist Office – but rather than adding flavour and getting the viewer to become immersed in the locale, it mostly feels like padding, though I will admit that a nice party atmosphere is set by Emily finding music and a party wherever she goes. She soon meets Wheeler, and to my eyes he came across more as creepy than anything else, especially when it transpires that he’s rung Emily’s mother to find out what she likes to eat, though it’s not as awkward as a later scene where he sets Emily up to sleep with another man for money. I couldn’t believe for a moment that Emily would even go up to this guy’s room, while their sex seems uncomfortably forced.
Wheeler, you see, has a fear of intimacy and likes to play games with the women who want him. He seems to know exactly what females desire, and even has an ability to get couples back together going by a ludicrous scene where he talks an estranged married couple into going at it in the back of a car, but pulls back at the last minute and ends up alienating himself from them. He’s an interesting character who belongs in a better movie, and, despite sporting a very obvious fake sun tan, Rourke does have a few good moments here and there, with his final monologue being very sensitively acted, but the character is poorly written and just doesn’t feel like a real person. Perhaps more to the point, there’s no chemistry between Rourke and Otis. They may have been a couple at the time the film was made, but it certainly doesn’t translate onto the screen. I didn’t feel that they fancied each other at all, which means that scenes which have the potential to be interesting, like Wheeler getting Emily to fantasise about a couple dining a few tables from them, just fall flat and come across as either stupid or forced. There was a rumour, later denied by Otis, that the big sex scene between the two had them doing it for real. It’s hard to tell because of the constant cutting back and forth from the same two or three different positions, but even back when I first saw the film it seemed like much ado about nothing. The clinical approach precludes any involvement, emotionally or other. We’re certainly not talking about, say, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie here.
There’s a rather well handled scuffle at a party, though any opportunities for real tension, like the man Emily has slept with turning up at a business meeting, tend to be thrown away. We basically have lots of footage of James and Emily at parties, lots of James being withdrawn but controlling, a bit of business dealing, and the odd moment of pointless spice which doesn’t go anywhere like Claudia and Emilt dressing up as men, with no real depth or genuine feel for eroticism despite lots of sexy Brazilian music playing – well, it is carnival time – and the locals being seemingly unable to keep their hands of each other. The filmmakers are clearly attempting to create a heady, lusty atmosphere, but it falls flat because the whole thing seems so contrived and artificial. Gale Tattersall’s cinematography is impressive throughout and the way the music is used, sometimes mingling the score with the source music, is often very adept, but despite the efforts made in certain departments I wasn’t ever really involved in the proceedings, and have to conclude that the movie certainly hasn’t got better with time.
The acting is generally okay, but Otis really is appalling, meaning that we never once believe her character. The dialogue is of an E. L. James standard [[“Why do I get the feeling that if I reach out and touch you, you’d disappear”?], though the whole thing does seem to be straining for a psychological complexity that is beyond the skills of King and company to realise. Every now and again, there are hints of a much better movie in Wild Orchid, a movie that really explores the potential of its characters and situations, and really goes deep. Maybe one day it’ll be made. For now, it remains a exercise in glossy, ridiculous superficiality that I suppose is kind of enjoyable in parts but is overall a bit of a slog because it doesn’t even really work on the basest level. At least for me. One thing I must say though is that, during my usual cursory amount of research, I did unearth the fact that Wild Orchid does appear to be a film that more women find sexy than men. So if you’re a bloke, you may well find the film as tedious, absurd and cold as I did, but your significant other may just love it.
Wild Orchid has already been released on Blu-ray in the US from Olive Films, but that version only contains the ‘R’ rated cut. Therefore, if you’re a fan of the film, Eureka Entertainment’s release is the one to get, even if you have the earlier release, because it contains both edits, while the picture appears to be a significant upgrade. I watched the uncut version all the way through and looked at bits of the shorter cut, and the picture was superb throughout, rich in colour and depth.
* Both versions of the film
* Original theatrical trailer