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Wild Orchid | Blu-ray Review

Wild Orchid Cover Box Well before the mainstream fascination with the soft-core sexual sensibilities of Fifty Shades of Grey, one of the more notable alums of such boundary pushing was American filmmaker Zalman King. After producing the infamous sensation that was Adrian Lyne’s 9 ½ Weeks, King moved into filmmaking himself, debuting in 1988 with Two Moon Junction, before collaborating with his wife Patricia Louisiana Knopp on what stands as his most high profile title with Wild Orchid in 1989, reuniting him with Weeks stars Mickey Rourke. As is often the case with cinema seriously interested in exploring eroticism and titillation, the title suffers from a lot of misplaced energy. Character development and its semblance of a narrative appear to be roughly hewn afterthoughts, its most pronounced moments revolving around extremely stylized sexual congress between several different characters (and stylized in the vein of what we see on display in Verhoeven’s Showgirls).

Emily (Carre Otis) has applied for a job with an international law firm run by Claudia Dennis (Jacqueline Bisset). Claudia is impressed with the youthful Emily, who speaks several languages and is employed with a law firm in Chicago. She offers her the job and Emily accepts, moments later whisked off to Rio de Janeiro with her boss to attempt to purchase beach front property from a suave businessman, James Wheeler (Mickey Rourke). But soon after landing, Claudia is called away, and when Emily meets James, sparks are evident. The experienced gentleman begins to push Emily to explore beyond the reaches of her limited sexual experiences.

Much of the initial infamy surrounding the film concerned the widespread rumor that Rourke and star Carre Otis were actually having sex in one of the film’s late staged sequences. If they are, it hardly amounts to anything worthy of our visual interest. Following the film, Otis, a model, would marry Rourke and later divorce him. They starred in one other film together (1996’s Exit to Red), but neither returned for King’s 1991 sequel. Their divorce would apparently have detrimental effects on Rourke, who was very public with his feelings for Otis, who has remarried and gained notoriety for sharing candid truths about suffering from anorexia and is now a successful plus-sized model.

All of the off-screen history between the two leads since making Wild Orchid makes for more fascinating discussion than their tawdry jaunt through Rio. Otis is breathtakingly beautiful (though whoever styled her in several sequences in the film seemed keen on attempting to mask that, including an early scene at a restaurant requiring Otis to arrive in an ill-fitting dress with her hair soaking wet), but she is an incredibly dry screen presence. Rourke’s overly tanned businessman is wearing more make up than Otis, and whatever chemistry the actors felt between themselves is not evident on screen.

But if there’s any reason to revisit Wild Orchid today, it’s to witness the horribly miscalculated performance from Jacqueline Bisset. Miscast and wholly unbelievable as an international lawyer attempting to procure beach front property in Rio de Janeiro (which ultimately ends up being a ridiculous ruse) from the unfeeling Mr. Wheeler (a man with the regular set of hang-ups in that he cannot seem to make sex and intimacy compatible), Bisset is the campy, entertaining glue that holds this together. Watch her loudly make vague deals over the telephone and then engage in a series of alarming behaviors when she returns later in the film, including dancing haphazardly in a bizarre party sequence. Bisset’s name is a validating force in such a project, but she comes away the most tarnished.

Disc Review:

Olive Films gives its banal Orchid a plain Jane Blu-ray transfer, presented with 1.85:1 aspect ratio and a lack of extra features. Visually, the film feels very much like it belongs to the period in which it was made. Rio de Janeiro is presented like an exotic travelogue for the repressed, though between its gorgeous skylines DoP Gale Tattersall captures a city transitioning beneath the guidance of economically lucrative tourist attention.

Final Thoughts:

Though it holds a certain amount of interest due to its scandalous sex sequences (including one incredibly campy scene between two writhing bodies in an abandoned building site), Wild Orchid pales in comparison to other erotomanic titles from the period, particularly Rourke’s earlier stint in 9 ½ Weeks. Of everything on screen, perhaps only the beauty of its picturesque locale remains intact by the end credits.

Film: ★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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