(gb) wrote: The camera gazes upward at what appears to be the ceiling of a ritzy mansion, swing music frolicking in the background. Capital letters suddenly appear on the screen, announcing that the location of this swing music adoring home is in Cape Fear, somewhere near the border between North and South Carolina. One can almost feel the rush of an air-conditioned breeze after a romp in the sun. Guests only come inside for a glass of bubbly and a leather chair to reflect on. A party is going on. We meet it at its exit, Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern trotting down the chandelier lit staircase in an effort to find some fun elsewhere. But a man stops them. You see, he has caught wind of a certain incident (allegedly, Nick attempted to have a tryst with Laura's mother in the bathroom), and has been hired to off him for the preservation of reputation. The man pulls out a switchblade with a wicked grin, ready to slash - sensing danger on the premises, Laura belts out a screechy "NOOOOOOOOO!"; Nick, in the meantime, overpowers the villain, slamming him against the handrail, the steps, the floor, until blood and brains cover the area. When his opponent is dead and gone, he can do nothing besides light a cigarette and viciously wag a finger at a Southern belle of a woman at the top of the stairs. You, his eyes say. No, we don't know what the hell is going on, and no, we aren't given enough time to react. Is this supposed to be a scene of camp, or a scene of heinous savagery? Perhaps both, as the carnage is soundtracked by thrash metal and Dern's screams while still managing to disturb the living bejesus out of us. As we will soon learn, "Wild At Heart" is a fearless road movie, unafraid to be abstract, unafraid to shock. As is the case with all David Lynch movies, one can tell whether they will enjoy the film within the first half-hour or so. If its overwhelming strangeness captures your imagination right off the bat, it will, no doubt, remain beguiling. But if you become lost in its incomprehensibility too soon, don't expect to find your way out of the rabbit hole. "Wild At Heart" never gives us the chance to question our curiosity. It begins so ferociously that we're immediately determined to figure out why our supposed hero feels so inclined to crack a man's skull in full view, even if the answer is somewhat ambiguous. What follows is a sprawling tale of distinctive criminals and sordid romances, all set to the tune of the road, Elvis Presley, and "The Wizard of Oz".Cage and Dern are Sailor and Lula, young lovers on the run from Sailor's parole and Lula's crazed mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd). The two merely want some time alone to bathe in each other's company through sex, rock 'n' roll, and the freedom of the highway; but Sailor, a cursed individual no doubt, has provoked the psychotic Marietta. He witnessed a scandalous event from her past that could ruin her high society livelihood, so, desperate, she hires a hitman to rid herself, and her daughter, of any future harm.But this doesn't do as much good as she would like -in fact, it does the complete opposite. Unleashed is a nightmare of crooks that sets out to destroy Sailor and Lula's seemingly unbreakable love, while Marietta, in the meantime, suffers a breakdown in the face of wrenching guilt.Reading the synopsis I've just written, I'm worried that I've made "Wild At Heart" sound too much like '93's "True Romance". That was a conventional movie with a vivid way with words, whereas "Wild At Heart" is a satire of the archetypes given to the lovers-on-the-run subgenre. To be even more specific, it is a satire of Sirkian melodramas, Elvis movies, road pictures, middle-of-nowhere noirs. It's one big satire, but it isn't. Lynch doesn't so much make fun of cliches as he does boil them in acid, turning them inside out and making things once viewed as beautiful oddly freakish. This is what I've always admired about his work; even at his worst moments, he creates his own world out of all things familiar.In some cases, his films have had too many ideas to fit into the space of a normal movie, playing out as monotonous rather than provocative. The framework of a road picture, however, suits Lynch's style perfectly. Road movies are places in which characters can ramble, where possibilities are endless; the unpredictability of his style is fitting, as tonal shifts manage to feel natural. The main characters are loose cannons, as are the individuals that haunt the small towns they face, so a jump from broad comedy to gory suspense doesn't feel very questionable. Sure, a genre shift can be jarring, but this is Lynch (more specifically, a Lynch road trip) we're talking about; a sense of aesthetic coherence is a gift from the gods. More sensational are the actors; the movie calls for insanity, and they provide nearly all of it. How Lynch is able to do this, I don't know; this is one of his finest ensembles. Cage and Dern are as over-the-top as any romantic leads could ever be, Cage taking breaks from metal concerts to lip-synch Elvis Presley's "Love Me", Dern going back and forth between vulnerable and thrill-seeking. Ladd, in a fantastic performance, is a hoot, taking the nastiest components of the bitchy women from "Dynasty", "Dallas", and "Peyton Place" and undergoing an excessive onscreen breakdown. In one scene, she covers her face in red lipstick in the wake of an increasingly guilty conscience; it could have been laughable, but Ladd makes the ridiculousness masterful in its delivery. Also stopping by are Willem Dafoe as a deranged criminal with an array of rotten teeth, Isabella Rossellini as a ratchet-blonde gun moll, Grace Zabrinskie as an aggressive, aging femme fatale, Sherilyn Fenn as a doomed victim of a car crash, and Sheryl Lee, as, yes, Glinda the Good Witch. "Wild At Heart" has a wild heart no doubt, but it works much better than some of Lynch's more indulgent offerings. It has something in the way of comprehensibility, and features a cast more than willing to submit to their uninhibited director's instincts. It's perhaps too long and perhaps too giddy when it comes to symbolic representation. But it's a reminder that filmmaking can be, in any form, an exciting craft.