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Revisiting All of the Double-Crosses in ‘Wild Things,’ 20 Years Later

The 1998 movie is famous for its bountiful backstabbing plot twists—oh, yeah, and that one scene

Ringer illustration

The most accidentally funny scene in 1998’s Wild Things, an exaggerated, swampy, saxophone-y, extremely humid cult classic that celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, happens 31 minutes into the movie.

Matt Dillon, who plays a slimy guidance counselor named Sam Lombardo, is driving by himself one evening after he’s been accused of raping the high school daughter of an ultra-rich woman. A car’s headlights are seen pulling up quickly behind Lombardo. The car catches up to Lombardo, then runs him off the road, causing Lombardo’s Jeep to roll over into a swamp. Lombardo gets out (the water is about waist high), and as he’s composing himself, the car that’s just run him off the road stops and backs up to the water. A guy gets out (it’s the boyfriend of the ultra-rich woman, but Lombardo doesn’t know it), and he pretends like he didn’t mean to do what he just did.

“Hey, are you all right?” the guys asks, walking into the water. “I’m fine,” says Lombardo. “You cool?” the guy asks as a follow-up but also as a confirmation, and then he cocks his fist, punches Lombardo in the face, and then shouts, “That’s too bad, motherfucker!” The guy grabs Lombardo, the camera cuts away to an alligator on the shore, and in the background, we hear the guy pounding on Lombardo’s face. As it’s happening, though, and this is so funny to watch—but as the beating is happening, the camera, after staying on the alligator for a second, cuts away to a raccoon in a tree, and it looks so, so, so much like the raccoon was surprised by the commotion and is now watching the fight like, “Aye, what the fuck?” Look:

Columbia Pictures

The camera stays on the raccoon for a full beat, and then it fades to black as we watch the raccoon watching Lombardo get beat up. It’s my favorite part of the whole movie, which is an impressive thing because there are so many favorite parts to be had, most of which are plot-twist double-crosses. There are a bunch. There are so many. There are a lot.

Here’s a list of all the double-crosses:

  • Sam Lombardo is accused of rape by a high school girl named Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards).
  • When the news comes out that Lombardo has been accused of rape, another high school girl, Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell), calls the police investigating the case and tells them that Lombardo raped her, too.
  • Lombardo hires a strip mall lawyer named Kenneth Bowden (somehow Bill Murray) to defend him at trial. (The Van Ryan family is powerful enough that none of the high-powered lawyers who know them are willing to help Lombardo.)
  • BUT THEN: During the trial, Suzie, a dolt, breaks under pressure. She admits that the accusations are false and that she was talked into it by Kelly. (Suzie, we find out, was mad at Lombardo because she felt like he abandoned her when she needed him the most. Kelly was mad at Lombardo, we find out, because he’d had an affair with her mother.)
  • BUT THENN: We find out that Kelly and Lombardo were in on it together. (Kelly’s mother had a trust in place for Kelly, but Kelly couldn’t touch it until her mother was dead. Rather than kill her mother, she and Lombardo came up with a plan that would allow for Lombardo to sue her mother, which he did after the rape case was dismissed. The Van Ryans settled out of court for $8.5 million.)
  • BUT THENNN: We find out that Suzie was in on it, too. (Suzie is poor and dumb and basically does whatever Kelly tells her to do.)
  • All the while that this is happening, one of the people who investigated the case (Sergeant Ray Duquette, played by Kevin Bacon) is sniffing around because he’s pretty sure that Kelly, Lombardo, and Suzie plotted the whole thing so they could get that money from Kelly’s mom.
  • Duquette confronts Suzie about it because she’s the weakest link of the group.
  • Suzie panics, calls Lombardo, then goes to Kelly’s house. Duquette follows her there, videotaping the conversation from a bush. (The Van Ryans are super rich, but apparently they have a shit security system.)
  • Kelly tells Suzie to relax and that they’re not double-crossing her.
  • BUT THENNNN: Turns out, they are double-crossing her. (Kelly calls Lombardo, who tells her that he’s going to murder Suzie so they don’t have to worry about her anymore.)
  • (This, by the way, is when that famous make-out session happens between Denise Richards and Neve Campbell, which, and I’m just guessing, was the result of the writer of the movie sitting around one day thinking, “Oh, man. I’d like to see Denise Richards and Neve Campbell make out in a movie,” and then writing a movie around that one situation.)
  • (Also, can I just say real quick that in a movie filled with ridiculous things, probably the most ridiculous one of all is that Matt Dillon is supposed to be some very sexy, impossible-to-resist stud.)
  • Suzie and Kelly are hanging out a day or so later, and it seems like things are good.
  • BUT THENNNNN: Lombardo shows up, and he murders Suzie by beating her to death with a champagne bottle. He buries her in a swamp.
  • The police find a couple of Suzie’s teeth at the scene, and also some blood, and so they know she’s dead and they suspect it was Lombardo who did it.
  • BUT THENNNNNN: Lombardo gives the police a school file on Kelly, which shows that she is mentally unstable and has been off the rails since her father committed suicide. Turns out, he was setting her up all along.
  • Duquette goes to see Kelly to talk to her about Suzie’s disappearance. She shoots him in the arm. He shoots her twice in the chest, killing her. (This happens offscreen. We only see Duquette walk in, then we hear a ruckus, then we see him stumble out of the house after he’s been shot.)
  • Duquette is fired from the police (he’d been given explicit instructions to leave the Van Ryans alone), and the police decide that it was Kelly who’d killed Suzie, which means that Lombardo not only dodges the murder charge, but also since both Suzie and Kelly are dead, he doesn’t have to split the money with anyone. He leaves to a beautiful island.
  • BUT THENNNNNNN: Turns out, Duquette and Lombardo were the ones who masterminded the plan. Duquette knew about everything from the jump (even Suzie’s murder). It was this long plan that they’d apparently put in place to get rich.
  • (Also, and this is just an aside, but the way we find out that Duquette and Lombardo are working together is Lombardo walks into his beach resort room and Duquette is in there taking a shower, a thing I mention because when he turns around to greet Lombardo, we get to see dick.)
  • (Another also: I read a thing at Mental Floss that said originally Duquette and Lombardo were supposed to shower together and kiss in the scene. It ended up getting cut. “One twist too many, man. One twist too many,” said Dillon.)
  • Lombardo and Duquette go sailing the next day. (Duquette is hanging out with Lombardo because he’s waiting for a bank transfer to clear his half of the money.)
  • BUT THENNNNNNNN: Turns out, Lombardo was setting up Duquette, too. He asks Duquette to check a thing on the side of the boat, and when he does Lombardo turns the boat the opposite direction, causing Duquette to fall overboard, lost in the middle of the sea with no life jacket or chance at survival.
  • BUT THENNNNNNNNN: Turns out, Duquette was able to grab a rope as he was falling over. He climbs back aboard and tries to kill Lombardo.
  • BUT THENNNNNNNNNN: Turns out, Suzie wasn’t actually dead. Her and Lombardo were working together because they were in love. She shoots Duquette in the leg with a harpoon, then shoots him in the chest with the harpoon. He falls overboard again, this time drowning.
  • As Lombardo and Suzie celebrate, she hands him a drink. He looks at it, then makes a distrustful face. She laughs, telling him that all of the double-crossing has made him paranoid, that if she was going to kill him, she was at least going to have to wait until they got to shore because she doesn’t know how to sail a boat.
  • BUT THENNNNNNNNNNN: There actually was poison in the drink. Lombardo drinks it, and then he dies. Suzie taught herself how to sail beforehand. She escapes with all of the remaining money, as well as the boat. She was working alone the whole time.
  • BUT THENNNNNNNNNNNN: She actually wasn’t working alone. She was working with the strip mall lawyer that Lombardo hired when all of this started. He meets her at an unnamed location on an unnamed island, hands her a briefcase full of walkaround money and a check, and then she vanishes. As the movie is ending, it gets explained that she actually has an off-the-charts genius IQ. Then we see a bunch of cut shots as the credits roll of her setting all the pieces of her plan in place, the most compelling of which is her and Lombardo faking her murder because we get to see her yank her own teeth out with a wrench.

That’s 12 double-crosses in a movie with a runtime of 108 minutes. That’s an average of one double-cross every nine minutes, which is an extremely high DCPM (double-cross per minute) rate. There’s also the raccoon, and a few alligators, and Kevin Bacon’s alligator, and the pool scene, and Bill Murray as a lawyer. It’s a lot. Wild Things is a lot.