Alex is a banker by day and hooker by night. When she hooks up with money launderer Bruno, however, she lands in deep trouble - both with his undercover FBI agent chauffeur Tony, and his beautiful wife Virginia.
When their movies are recut by philistine studio execs, most directors complain to the press and slap on an 'Alan Smithee' credit. When Nu-Image edited Wild Side into "an ordinary thriller", Donald Cammell shot himself. Four years after his suicide, the film - originally passed off as a cable TV time-waster - resurfaces more closely resembling the one Cammell intended to make.
The set-up owes something to Crimes Of Passion (1984), while the main twist has overtones of Bound (1996). Alex Lee (Heche), a banker moonlighting as a high-priced call girl, finds herself caught between a charismatic criminal and a thuggish detective. Alex's latest client is Beatle-haired money-launderer Bruno (Walken), who orders his chauffeur Tony (Bauer) to have sex with her to prove she isn't an FBI agent. Tony semi-rapes Alex, then reveals that he's the undercover Fed and blackmails her into helping him get the goods on his boss.
The film was shot before Heche's well-publicised 'coming out', which adds layers of irony to many of her lines ("Do I look like I have 'tendencies' to you?"). There's a hilarious rant from Walken as he decides to pay back Bauer for forcing himself on Heche by sodomising him, while Heche and Chen have a great sex scene, but also deliver delicate, ambiguous, funny and touching performances.
It's hard not to think of the lovers as analogues to Cammell and partner/co-screenwriter Kong, though the director must have been torn between Walken and Heche as identification figures.
A lot of flashing back-and-forward reminds you of Performance (1970), but the real strangeness of the film is in the off-centre dialogue ("You ever see grey squares on a chessboard?") and the near-farcical plotting that throws the characters together in almost every imaginable combination.