WILDER NAPALM is an attempt at incendiary comedy that fizzles where it should sizzle. A black comic account of two flame-throwing telekinetic brothers competing over a pyromaniacal nymphomaniac is an unusual idea, yet the result generates about enough sparks to light an infant's birthday
Wilder and Wallace Foudroyant (Arliss Howard, Dennis Quaid) have displayed fire-starting powers since childhood, when Wallace burned off all of Wilder's hair. Their estrangement has led Wallace to bury his identity as a clown in a carnival, but he is considering going Hollywood with his manager
Rex (Jim Varney). His decision to make the leap is finalized by the carnival's arrival in his former hometown of Orlando, Florida. Wallace's wicked streak is piqued by the appearance of Wilder, who serves as a volunteer fireman when he isn't managing a photo booth at the mall where the carnival
has pitched tent. Wilder is married to the tempestuous Vida (Debra Winger), whose sexual demands are considerable, partly because she is under house (trailer) arrest for arson.
Wallace has long carried a torch for Vida and, prompted by sibling rivalry, cannot resist making a play for her. When Wilder is unable to make time to celebrate the end of his wife's parole, Wallace comes courting. Their necking causes Wallace telekinetically to enflame a minature golf course.
Wilder is among the firemen who extinguish the blaze, and he becomes suspicious. When he catches the two of them making love on the trailer roof, the brothers' conflict is ignited for real. Wilder doesn't want to use his firestarter talents but, pushed to the edge by his brother's expertise, he
does, and all three end up in jail.
Rex arrives to post bond for Wallace, who insists he do likewise for Vida, who is adamant he do the same for Wilder. Vida is angry at Wallace and wants her husband's affections back; Wallace wants Vida and a shot at the big time; Wilder is hurt and angry at both his wife and brother. Ultimately,
the brothers' fight is resumed, taking most of the carnival equipment and rides with it. Vida arrives on the firetruck to hose them both down and convince them to give themselves up. All three are on parole at film's end, but Wallace, billed as "Dr. Napalm," has found showbiz notoriety on the
David Letterman show, as Vida and Wilder make love on the trailer roof.
Because WILDER NAPALM comes from Glenn Gordon Caron, creator of TV's "Moonlighting," one might have expected a more sardonic, battle-of-the-sexes, screwball edge. But, having established its premise before and during the opening credits, NAPALM fails to deliver on any of its promises. Vince
Gilligan's script doesn't tease on the idea of firestarting, but dumps out all the tricks early on. Any comic potential regarding fire is dispensed with about halfway through, when Wilder has a flashback to a show of schoolboy cruelty in which a man is (accidentally) burnt to death. The removal of
a completely charred, lifeless body pretty much negates any comic potential from that point on. NAPALM's carnival backdrop is hardly utilized at all and Caron's direction is listless.
Star chemistry might have partially redeemed NAPALM, but when Debra Winger says to Arliss Howard early on, "Last night I dreamt we were Elvis and Ann-Margret in VIVA LAS VEGAS," you begin to realize what the actors are up against. There are moments in NAPALM where one can almost feel Winger
willing the material to succeed but, for all her vitality, she is not a sure enough comedienne to create amusement under lackluster conditions. Winger works best when drawing out a leading man who seems emotionally unavailable---Travolta, Gere, Hopkins. Emotional introspection, however, is hardly
Dennis Quaid's forte, so the chemical equation never even begins to work.
The Mighty Echoes, an accomplished a cappella group ("I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire," "Ring of Fire," "Heat Wave," etc.) are tossed in as singing fireman, but their numbers are so poorly timed in the narrative that the result is alternately jarring or grating. Ricky Ju and Michael Weber,
who accomplished the film's pyro-magic, are the film's only performers to be congratulated. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: WILDER NAPALM is an attempt at incendiary comedy that fizzles where it should sizzle. A black comic account of two flame-throwing telekinetic brothers competing over a pyromaniacal nymphomaniac is an unusual idea, yet the result generates about enough spar… (more)