It’s a shame that David Lynch became less and less involved with the original version of the Twin Peaks TV show; creative differences with his paymasters is the reason most often cited (they wanted to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer and satisfy audience curiosity while Lynch wanted to retain an air of mystery), but there was also the small matter of making and then promoting this Palme d’Or winner, a bizarro road movie starring Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage. It is still fun to watch today, but it hasn’t aged spectacularly well, for a number of reasons. Of course it’s not Lynch’s fault, but Cage’s wildman schtick – fairly fresh back in 1990 – just seems too preposterous these days and has long been tiresome to watch, but it does at least fit in here with a cartoonish world, much in the same way it slotted in very well with the Coens’ Raising Arizona beforehand. Secondly, a certain Quentin Tarantino and a certain Tony Scott took a central premise – Elvis-obsessed weirdo goes on the run along with sweet-natured blonde-of-his-dreams in an open-topped Cadillac while various ne’er-do-wells give chase – and created a straighter, more accessible, more cheaply-violent film in True Romance, which seems to have stolen some of this movie’s thunder.
Still, given the collection of oddballs in this film there’s an underlying weirdness that makes Wild At Heart a decent companion piece to watch alongside Twin Peaks (more so, tonally, than the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me movie, which is much darker than the original TV show). The characters here are entertainingly cracked and the performances suitably over-the-top: Cage’s Sailor Ripley karate kicks his way around the dancefloor, talks in vague, cool-sounding pop culture soundbites and strikes a multitude of silly Elvis poses; Dern’s Lula swoons and sparkles with alarming regularity; Diane Ladd’s evil witch mom (the references to The Wizard Of Oz are never anything but clumsy) cackles and plots; Willem Dafoe, playing deranged criminal Bobby Peru, has never been oilier, or creepier; and then there are the extra ones that Lynch added to Barry Gifford’s novel, such as W. Morgan Sheppard’s kingpin Mr. Reindeer and Sherilyn Fenn’s crash victim… their appearances are moments in time in which, briefly, Wild At Heart crosses paths with other strange movies, or other strange Lynch stories. The performances are typically committed and enjoyable, the score by Angeleo Badalamenti is a beautiful warning or harbinger of Bad Times, and overall it’s a fun tour through a 50’s-facing American south that we may at least partly recognise. Sadly, though, despite the Cannes approval it’s not quite up there with Lynch’s best work. (***½)