Wild Orchid

I’m not sure exactly when Mickey Rourke stopped being one of the most promising actors of his generation, but it must have been around the time of 9 ½ Weeks, an erotic epic so lifeless it gave soft-core porn a bad name.

Rourke has done some good work when called upon – his performance in Barfly was brilliant – but he seems drawn to navel-contemplating and marginalia.

Wild Orchid couldn’t come at a worse time in his career, for it reunites him with 9 ½ Weeks creators Zalman King and Patricia Louisianna Knop. It is yet another dreadful exercise in would-be erotica, with Rourke doing his cryptic laid-back routine amid a crawling narrative about sexual abandon.

Model Carre Otis plays a naïve Midwestern girl who gets hired by a flaky businesswoman (Jacqueline Bisset, poor thing) who whisks her off to Rio for some high-pressure dealmaking. It’s carnival time, of course, so everyone is sexed to the teeth. Otis meets an incredibly wealthy guy who rides a motorcycle, wears a leather jacket without a shirt, and can’t stand being touched (Rourke, as if you didn’t know).

As anything but a travelogue, Wild Orchid is awful. The dialogue wavers between deadpan non sequiturs (“I’m not used to men in masks biting my neck”) to sensitivity-training observations that cut about as deep as greeting cards, such as the difference between “having sex” and “making love.” This stuff would embarrass Erich Segal and that Jonathan Livingston Seagull guy.

The sex scenes generate a lot of smoke, little fire. In a way, it’s too bad, because the American cinema has precious little in the way of serious excursions into erotica. Phil Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the only recent film that comes immediately to mind. No one seems interested in topping Last Tango in Paris.

The feverish wrestling in Wild Orchid was naughty enough to earn the film an X rating upon its initial submission to the MPAA ratings board (some post-X cutting and pasting got the film an R). There have also been rumors about the alleged authenticity of the climactic love scene between Otis and Rourke, who apparently became an off-screen item during shooting. In other words: Are they really doing it?

All of which sounds suspiciously like an attempt to generate interest in this excruciatingly boring movie.

First published in The Herald, April 1990

Despite the U.S. release date, the film showed in Europe in ’89, so it counts for our website purposes. Otis and Rourke married, and she did very little in film after that. The film was, of course, part of the Zalman King brand. Would love to hear the on-set conversations between actor and star, in this case.

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