Bullet Points: Wild Thing
Tarzan has been a go to character for Hollywood dating all the way back to 1932 when Olympic gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller first donned the loin cloth. Others who have played the iconic character over the years include Buster Crabbe, Christopher Lambert, Miles O’Keeffe, Joe Lara and Casper Van Dien. The Tarzan tradition will continue in 2016 when Alexander Skarsgård swings into theaters as Tarzan in The Legend of Tarzan.
Not only have there been multiple Tarzan movies over the years, there have been movies like Wild Thing, that have drawn inspiration from the Tarzan character, without directly being a Tarzan movie.
Released on April 17, 1987 Wild Thing put a modern day and urban twist on the Tarzan tale with Rob Knepper in the titular role.
- Back in the Summer of ’69: Our movie begins with a young boy on the road with his hippy parents in their VW van. The peace loving family had no idea that picking up a hitchhiker on the side of the road would change their lives forever. When the van is stopped by a motorcycle gang led by a guy named Chopper (Robert Davi). At this point we learn the hitchhiker was attempting to rip off Chopper and is quickly killed.. Having seen too much, Chopper also finds it necessary to murder the two hippies who were foolish enough to offer the hitchhiker a ride. Chopper does this not knowing the hippy couples’ young son, who was hiding under a blanket in the van, witnessed the whole horrifying scene. As Chopper and a dirty cop named Trask (Maury Chaykin) are removing the corpses from the van, the young boy flees the scene and jumps in the nearby river to escape Chopper and Trask. With a strong current and no sign of his body after the jump, Chopper and Trask presume the boy drowned… they were wrong.
- The World According to Leah: The young boy washes ashore and is “adopted” by a homeless woman by the name of Leah (Betty Buckley). Leah also dubs the young boy, Wild Thing, a name that would stick with him forever. Leah’s life experiences (including a few rounds of shock therapy) have given her a different view of the world than most. She raises Wild Thing and teaches him to live off the land and how to survive in the streets. She also instills a distrust of the “blue coats” aka the cops and the “white coats” aka doctors. As time went on and Wild Thing grew up, his legend would grow too.
- Every Tarzan Needs a Jane: It seems only fitting for an urban Tarzan like Wild Thing to have a damsel in distress named Jane. Jane (played by Kathleen Quinlan) is a social worker who has come to New York to work at Safe House, a home for runaways and orphans. Her first night in town is a rough one as she finds herself in “The Zone”. “The Zone” is a part of town even the cops stay out of. “The Zone” is controlled by Chopper, who at this point has graduated from drug dealing gang leader, to full blown crime boss. Two of Chopper’s minions find Jane lost on the streets and attempt to rape her in the backseat of their car… fortunately for Jane, Wild Thing shows up and rescues her.
- Fired Up: The issues between Chopper and Wild Thing escalate quickly when Lisa, one of the teenagers Jane is trying to help at Safe House, as a hooker friend who gets her a gig working one of Chopper’s parties. She is there to provide “entertainment” to Chopper and his coke snorting friends… but after she backs out of the deal and goes to the cops… Chopper gets pissed and orders that Safe House be burned down. Lisa, the catalyst for Chopper’s rage is nearly killed in the fire, but she too benefited from a Wild Thing rescue. Wild Thing’s daring rescue at Safe House exposed him to the world, news reporters caught him on camera and he was no longer an urban legend, he was a reality for the people of New York.
- The Table is Set: Now the pieces of the puzzle start coming together for the dastardly pair of Chopper and Trask as they figure out that Wild Thing is the young boy they presumed had drowned nearly 20 years earlier. Chopper is desperate to eliminate Wild Thing which means in classic bad guy fashion he goes after Jane to lure Wild Thing out of hiding and force a showdown between good and evil.
I would categorize Wild Thing as another 1980’s hidden gem. I thought Rob Knepper did a great job as the primitive protagonist. Kathleen Quinlan’s Jane was really the heart of the movie. Her empathy for the kids at Safe House and the relationship that blossomed between her and Wild Thing really drive the whole film. I’m not sure there is anybody who could have played crooked cop Jonathan Trask better than Maury Chaykin. And Chopper is one of my favorite Robert Davi performances behind his roles in The Goonies and Licence to Kill.
The best thing about Wild Thing, is how unique it is. Yes it borrows elements from Tarzan, but trust me when I say there is only one Wild Thing out there.
And while there may only be one Wild Thing, there are five Wild Thing bonus Bullet Points for your reading pleasure…
- A Cameo By Arnold?!: Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an appearance of sorts in the movie Wild Thing. He can be seen on the cover of the GQ Magazine that Chopper is reading. For those keeping score it was the July 1986 edition of GQ Magazine.
- If You Ever: …wanted to see a homeless man who thought he was a matador, “bullfight” oncoming cars, then this is the movie for you! Olé!
- Lesson Learned: If there’s one lesson that can be learned from Wild Thing, it is not to pick up hitchhikers.
- Interior Decorator: Any bachelors out there who want to spruce up their bachelor pad, don’t waste your time hiring an interior decorator, just copy the swanky pad that Chopper lives in. You’ll definitely want a coffee table with hidden compartments.
- The Troggs: The movie features the classic hit, “Wild Thing” by The Troggs. And now thanks to YouTube, this review will also feature The Troggs…