Emily Reed (Carré Otis) is planning to be a hotshot international lawyer as she leaves her home in the middle of nowhere to travel to New York City and begin her career. Almost immediately she secures a new job with a firm that sends her all the way to Rio de Janiero, where she is tutored in her latest lifestyle by her boss and guide, Claudia Dennis (Jacqueline Bisset), who tells her what to do, where to be and how to dress. Emily finds the heady atmosphere of Rio intoxicating as she casts an eye over the beach, but on site at the hotel the company is building she is shocked to see a couple making love in one of the unfinished rooms...
As Emily is innocently virginal, that's not the kind of thing she wanted to be seeing when wandering around - it's not part of her job description, at any rate. Yet this accidental voyeurism places a thought in her head and she spends the rest of the film wondering what it would be like to have sex with Mickey Rourke. Hmm, Mickey Rourke, softcore sex scenes, glossy photography, haven't we been here before? Well, sort of as it was he who starred in Nine and a Half Weeks with Kim Basinger, a huge hit in its day, but Wild Orchid was not such a massive success in the cinema. It did, however, do well on video in places where hardcore wasn't available.
Or simply not wanted by the customers, as there was a rumour that the climactic sex scene between Rourke and Otis depicted an actual act and had not been staged. Just keep telling yourself that, suckers, thought director Zalman King who with his wife Patricia Louisianna Knop had not only made the previous Rourke-Basinger romp, but was carving out a niche in this type of thing and fair play to him, he did know his way around an artfully contrived shot. No, it wasn't true that the couple, who went on to be married in real life shortly after this was made, and slightly less shortly were divorced, were doing it for real, but rumours like that do no harm to the publicity machine.
What might do harm to the publicity machine might be if it got out how risible Wild Orchid was, with a pretension about its sultry escapades that did it no favours and indeed had more than one viewer rolling their eyes, or worse, roaring with laughter. What did not help was that Rourke, who has been known to deliver a fine performance, was coasting on whispery autopilot throughout (apart from one scene where he shouts his head off), and more damaging, he's not in the film that much, more a figure of mystery to mentor the characters who are having sexual problems. Yes, he's the equivalent of Dr Ruth here, a bit taller and more orange, but no less curious for that in light of the fount of wisdom he's supposed to be portraying.
Why is that more damaging? Step forward Miss Otis, putting in one of the worst performances of any leading lady ever seen inside a cinema. A former model, she spoke her lines in a bored monotone, sounding as if she were reciting the telephone directory for all the passion she brought to the role, so while she was attractive enough to look the part, she was out-acted by the furniture. As if to compensate, Bisset offered us a reading that went too far the other way, making Claudia an embarrassing auntie of a woman, frequently busting dance moves when you least expect it, dressing up as a man to sign a business deal (complete with pencil moustache - would you trust your company to her?), and seducing men half her age for the hell of it. That's not to mention the way she cannot settle on an accent. Everything is really in the service of sexual fantasies, so if you find your's matching the ones onscreen you might well appreciate it, but it largely goes to prove how difficult it is to make this stuff convincing.