The formal outrageousness of Blue Velvet established David Lynch as the director best suited to capture end-of-the-millennium willies. The success of his Twin Peaks confirmed the market for hysterical paranoia. Yet Wild at Heart, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year (to a chorus of boos), died at the box office, failing even to attract a cult. Small wonder: It is an incoherent and unpleasant movie. The scenes intended to be funny aren't, the dialogue meant to be wittily banal is merely banal (''This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top,'' or ''I wish I was somewhere over the rainbow''). The profusion of gross-out images blood, vomit, toilets is actually preferable to the images that are merely pretentious: fires, endless references to The Wizard of Oz, Elvis Presley ballads, and ideas lifted from Akira Kurosawa and Tennessee Williams.
A plot is barely discernible. Lulu (Laura Dern) runs off with Sailor (Nicolas Cage), followed by assassins put on their trail by Lulu's loathsome mother (Diane Ladd), who apparently murdered Lulu's father. They travel from Cape Fear in North Carolina to Big Tuna, Tex., where they meet hideous Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), a killer with inch-high gums and rotted teeth. Before the preposterously sentimental ending, the viewer has plenty of time to ponder the burning question: How did Crispin Glover, who has one line and about 20 seconds of screen time, get billed over key players Ladd and Harry Dean Stanton (who plays a private investigator). The vividness of their performances is the film's most redeeming quality.
To make matters worse, the inept video transfer further muddles the film by showing people talking to dislocated body parts (letterboxing should have been used to retain the full wide-screen picture). The problem robs Wild at Heart even of Lynch's undoubted visual flair. D+