FRYEAN MYTHOS: (1) *adventure,* (2) *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*
Here we have two modern-day meditations on the idea of the “feral child.” In all likelihood most fantasy-film concordances would leave out both of them, since they contain no marvelous content. To be sure, there are a fair number of feral-child films—notably Francoise Truffaut’s THE WILD CHILD—that remain confined to the level of the naturalistic. But both WILD THING and EASY WHEELS transform the mundane nature of their environments by the intrusion of an uncanny figure. One qualifies largely in terms of the "outre outfits skills and devices" trope, while the other fits the "weird families and societies" trope.
WILD THING, scripted by the renowned John Sayles, is clearly a tongue-in-cheek meditation on the Tarzan mythos—though not so invested in humor as to become a comedy. The character of “Wild Thing”—who never receives any other name—begins as the small child of a hippie couple. The child's parents are killed by a crime boss and his policeman stooge. The kid sees a tattoo on the hand of the head crook, which will later lead to a vengeful confrontation, just as Tarzan has to wait for maturity until he can take revenge on the great ape that kills his father. In contrast to the Burroughs book, though, there are never any quasi-Freudian aspects to the conflict.
Instead of being raised by apes, Wild Thing is raised by streetpeople, chiefly by Leah, an addled bag-woman who teaches him to avoid all authority, which she refers to as “the Company.” She’s been victimized by electroshock in an asylum, causing her to rave about how the Company tries to make everyone alike. This theme isn’t pursued in detail. Leah perishes during Wild Thing’s childhood just as Tarzan’s foster-mother dies, both having lived long enough to make it probable that the feral child can pursue his own Rousseau-esque existence.
Roaming about the rooftops of the city (which take the place of jungle-trees), Wild Thing becomes a legend to the land-bound inhabitants. The superstition even becomes incorporated into the local culture as a “rite of passage.” When young Rasheem wants to join a gang of his fellow Afro-Americans (taking the place of jungle-tribes in the Tarzan books), the gang initiates the boy by tying him to a lamppost at night, to see if he has the courage to meet the Wild Thing. Instead, Rasheem meets a lady social worker by the name of Jane (of course), and both of them are pursued by the hoods of a crime-boss named Chopper. Rasheem gets away but Jane must be saved by the intervention of the legend himself.
Much of the time, Wild Thing (Rob Knepper) follows the model of Tarzan in cavorting around with minimal clothing. He doesn’t command animals, though a cat follows him around, giving rise to a legend somewhat credenced by both black and white locals: that Wild Thing can change into a cat. Through various misadventures Wild Thing romances Jane, learns that Chopper is the man responsible for his parents’ deaths, and takes the appropriate revenge.
WILD THING is by no means a high-energy adventure: the hero only has a handful of battles, and neither the villain nor the hero’s fights against his forces are impressive. The film does have some winsome moments, as when Jane initiates Wild Thing in the mysteries of sex, or in the many scenes in which Sayles embraces the individualistic weirdness of the street-culture. However, at no point is it any competition for Sayles’ better film on this theme, THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET.
EASY WHEELS also has the feel of a romp, though it’s more purely a comic take on the nearly extinct genre of the biker-film. Many of these films pit destructive, hell-bent-for-leather “bad bikers” against relatively “good” riders of the open road, and EASY WHEELS takes one cue from these. It also takes a cue from a handful of female-biker films, though most if not all of these stick close to the naturalistic.
EASY’s one touch of the metaphenomenal hinges upon its main (and villainous) character, She-Wolf (Eileen Davidson), for she’s presented as a feral child raised by wolves. Her background doesn't give She-Wolf any special abilities or cause her to wear unusual attire, but her experience with the wolves somehow convinces her to found her own tribe of lesbian warriors, apparently modeled on the example of the archaic Amazons. The film spends no time with questions as to how She-Wolf became a functioning human being, or how she gathered together a gang of lesbian bikers. In contrast to the matriarchal Amazons, who slept with men from other tribes in order to spawn girl babies—while getting rid of the boys along the way—She-Wolf’s group sells the boy babies to black-market adoption agencies and plans to raise the girls to found their new nation under Lesbos.
As noted above, all of this is pursued in very light-hearted fashion. In deference to the growth of “tough girls” in the movies of the 1980s, all of the biker-amazons are as tough as nails, and they pretty much ride roughshod over all of their opponents, including a gang of goodguy male bikers, known as the Bourne Losers, and led by "Bruce" (Paul Le Mat). She-Wolf’s only vulnerability is that she falls in love with Bruce. In order to scratch this unexpected hetero itch, She-Wolf convinces her lesbo buddies to emulate the ancient Amazons and have a mass orgy with the guys, purely to produce some girl babies of their own. The lesbians find out about She-Wolf’s “fbrbidden love” and force her to return to baby-stealing, thus setting up the final battle—which the guys only win by dumb luck.
EASY WHEELS is largely enjoyable for its slapstick fight-scenes and the minor wit of its setup. Despite the mentions of lesbianism this is at best a PG film, most of which could run unedited on any mainstream TV channel. One of its scripters was Sam Raimi, who would become bettter known as a director and as a producer for a much better-known amazon-adventure, 1995's XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS.