The material is the commedia dell'arte of '80s mobster tackiness: Cassavetes laid the foundation in Big Trouble and Jonathan Demme runs it to irresistible extremes, afterwards Scorsese just had to do Goodfellas. The elasticity of the territory is tested in the first scene, a rubout aboard a New Jersey commuter train that nods to Last Embrace while reviving the freedom of Crazy Mama. The questionable taste of the milieu is joyously reveled in, from contraband furniture still in its crate to lounges done up like medieval castles and motels with "theme rooms," the last of which serves as a rendezvous spot for the capo di tutti capi (Dean Stockwell). His mistress (Nancy Travis) lies naked on her tummy, puffing on a cigarette; "You are going to start a fire," he says, she just giggles: "It's a waterbed." The jealous kingpin discovers she's been seeing one of his goons (Alec Baldwin), shoots both and then moves on to Baldwin's widow, a fetchingly stressed-out Mafia princess (Michelle Pfeiffer). When she's cornered in the supermarket by Stockwell's yenta (Mercedes Ruehl), who demonstrates her wrath on a carton of eggs, it's time for a new life -- Pfeiffer moves to the city and dodges a peeping Tracey Walter before finding a hairdressing job with "Sister" Carol East and surveillance from FBI agent Matthew Modine. It's a toss-up between wiseguys and Reagan's guys ("The mob is run by murdering, thieving, lying, cheating psychopaths. We work for the President"), but love wins out: Pfeiffer vulnerably tells her tale of woe to Modine and, in the movie's sublimest mercurial moment, crosses her peepers for the camera. The ferocious streaks of Something Wild are for the most part tamed into such gags as Chris Isaak's appearance as a fast-food clown packing two revolvers. Yet the film just about dances with Demme's comic grace notes, brought out with a very broad smile from the center to the margins (Charles Napier and Joan Cusack! David Johansen and Al Lewis!) and marvelously carried all the way to the end of the credits. With Oliver Platt, Jason Allen, and Paul Lazar.
--- Fernando F. Croce