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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Wilder Napalm (1993)

"We're just one big thermonuclear family!"
- Wilder (Arliss Howard)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: September 09, 2003

Stars: Debra Winger, Dennis Quaid, Arliss Howard
Other Stars: M. Emmet Walsh, Jim Varney, Mimi Lieber
Director: Glenn Gordon Caron

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (thematic elements, language and some sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:49m:12s
Release Date: September 09, 2003
UPC: 043396015784
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Siblings always compete. From the time we learn to walk, the games begin. Who can run faster? Who's smarter? Who's less naughty? Who has more friends? As we age, the competitions become more covert but no less fierce. Yet imagine the stakes if two brothers possess a powerful and destructive talent that, when unleashed, can cause horrific damage and even death. And what if someone did die—unintentionally—when they were kids and didn't realize the depth of their gift? How would the brothers deal with that tragedy, and how would it affect their relationship as grown men?

In Wilder Napalm, the brothers are Wallace (Dennis Quaid) and Wilder (Arliss Howard), the talent is starting fires through mental means, and their relationship is a shambles. So when these guys compete, uncork the nearest hydrant, call 911 and run for cover, because things get hot pretty quick. Writer Vince Gilligan throws Stephen King's Firestarter on its ear, adding a kooky love triangle, sibling rivalry, suppressed memories and offbeat humor to create one of Hollywood's quirkiest comedies.

While fireworks are a staple of screen romances, you've never seen anything like the pyrotechnics that combust when Wallace kisses old flame Vida (Debra Winger) during a miniature golf game. Embers thought to be extinguished re-ignite, which doesn't please Wilder, Vida's mild-mannered husband. You see, once upon a campfire, Vida almost married Wallace, only to choose his brother at the last minute. Wallace didn't take the rejection well and burned off all of Wilder's hair at his bachelor party. Close these guys are not.

In the intervening years since their childhood tragedy, the brothers have chosen starkly different paths. Wilder suppresses his incendiary gift and lives a mainstream life with Vida, currently under house arrest for a bit of pyromania herself. He works at a local photo booth and even calls bingo at the ladies auxiliary once a week. Wallace, on the other hand, has chosen to exploit his talent, showing off as a clown with a traveling carnival. One day—you guessed it—the carnival comes to town and buried conflicts erupt anew.

Director Glenn Gordon Caron takes a spirited stab at the material, but Wilder Napalm failed to light my fire. Winger, Quaid and Howard make a winning triumvirate and sparks continually fly between them. A scene in a jailhouse with the three in adjoining cells features some nice repartee, but while the trio works tirelessly to milk some laughs (Winger especially), the material often stymies them. So often during the film, the audience waits for a payoff or punch line that never quite materializes. As a result, Caron must shoulder the comedic responsibility through his directorial style. He, too, creates some amusing tableaux—Howard in a catatonic state on a riding mower endlessly circling his trailer home is one of his best—that compliment the script but can't overcome its deficiencies.

In the final analysis, Wilder Napalm is both too broad and too subtle, overcooked and underdone. It's easy to appreciate the effort and creativity that went into its production, as well as the sporadic humor and bizarre premise, but the film ultimately falls short of expectations. There's a lot of fire in Wilder Napalm, but, sadly, too little smoke.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Despite a prevalent darkness in the source print, Wilder Napalm translates well to DVD. Winger's colorful costumes are bright and vibrant, and the ever-present flames sizzle with intensity. The widescreen anamorphic transfer shows only minimal flaws, with just occasional flecks dotting the print. Contrast and shadow detail are adequate, flesh tones seem balanced and very slight edge enhancement is almost undetectable.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The two-channel Dolby Surround track rocks and rumbles at times, especially when the brothers ignite fires. Other than that, the track is fairly standard. Dialogue is clear and comprehendible, and levels remain solid (except for the too-loud opening title sequence).

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Big Daddy, Daddy Day Care, Mr. Deeds, National Security, Stealing Harvard
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A quirky comedy like Wilder Napalm craves a commentary track by the director, writer and/or stars to give the viewer a better sense of the film's intentions, creativity and production process. Sadly, one is not included here. All we get instead is a bunch of trailers. Too bad.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Romantic comedies don't get much more offbeat than Wilder Napalm. When the flames die down, you won't find much substance in the ashes, but the movie still manages to project some charm and heart. Fans of the film will appreciate the above average transfer and solid audio. For curio seekers, a rental is certainly sufficient.


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