[box cover]

Wilder Napalm

Wilder Napalm is the flop time forgot, a ridiculously expensive, f/x-heavy romantic comedy that sat on the shelf for well over a year while TriStar, the studio fool enough to greenlight it, presumably fretted over their folly while scrambling to find the right off-season dumping ground to unload it. The film, directed by Glenn Gordon Caron, and written by "X-Files" scribe Vince Gilligan, finally made a brief theatrical appearance in August of 1993 before slouching toward home video obscurity, somehow avoiding the ignominy heaped upon Hudson Hawk and The Last Action Hero (both of which, amazingly, were bankrolled by TriStar, as well). But unlike those two career-scarring misfires, Napalm never attracted a vocal cult following willing to unashamedly go to the mat for its endearing eccentricities. Perhaps now is that time. Because even when it isn't working, which is, frankly, more than half of the time, Wilder Napalm is imbued with a smart whimsicality that makes it all strangely irresistible. The premise is a real humdinger: Two rival brothers with telekinetic firestarting abilities reunite after a five-year absence to once again do battle over the woman that separated them in the first place. The woman at the center of this sibling conflagration is Vida (Debra Winger), a combination pyromaniac/nymphomaniac who jilted the alpha male of the brothers, Wallace (Dennis Quaid), in favor of the more passive-aggressive Wilder (Arliss Howard). Feeling betrayed, Wallace used his powers to scorch the hair off of Wilder's scalp before running off to join the circus to exploit his freakish ability for financial gain, leaving his older brother to settle down with Vida in a sleepy Florida hamlet where, five years later, he now serves as a volunteer firefighter. But Vida is still a handful, having gotten herself placed under house arrest thanks to her incendiary fetish, and forever testing Wilder's tolerance for her eccentricities. Vida is just about to end her year-long incarceration when Wallace rolls back into town, newly emboldened by the prospect of exposing his supernatural talent on Letterman, which he envisions as a springboard to lucrative corporate endorsements. This is the carrot he dangles in front of Vida, who feels like her vitality is being doused by the mostly mild-mannered Wilder. Wallace also intends to settle the score with his older brother as well by goading him into using his powers so that they can have it out once and for all. How Wilder Napalm ever sounded appetizing to normally conservative production executives, particularly since it was absent a single bankable star, is a mystery. Perhaps they were taken with the script's colorful embellishments, which include a barbershop quartet of firemen, a randy collection of carnies headed up by the late, great Jim Varney (keep an eye on his t-shirts), and an avalanche of pop-culture references. Perhaps they trusted the enthusiasm of Caron, who once upon a time turned such goofy idiosyncrasies into must-see television with "Moonlighting." Whatever their reasons were for investing in this unprecedented commodity, they got burned. It would be nice to say that the film received unjust treatment from TriStar, but their reticence was well-earned; there was no way to sell this movie. But for those with a taste for the bizarre, Wilder Napalm is truly a one-of-a-kind spectacle with some beautifully lyrical moments that compensate for its many missteps. Best of all is a passionate liplock between Wallace and Vida that, as the camera dollies dizzyingly around them, literally leaves a miniature golf course in flames. And, really, what's not to love about a film that can pull off a soulful, wholly unironic scene transition to Foreigner's "Waiting For a Girl Like You"? At its best, it's an exhilarating, sporadically captivating anomaly. Columbia TriStar presents Wilder Napalm in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) struck from an intermittently spotty print. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0, with extras limited to a few trailers. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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