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NATURAL BORN KILLERS . Directed by Oliver Stone; written by David Veloz, Richard Rutowski and Oliver Stone; produced by Jane Hamsher, Don Murphy and Clayton Townsend for Warner Bros. Starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis. Rated R (an enormous amount of violence, graphic sex and sexual references, and, oh yes, vulgar language)


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I left the theatre after seeing Natural Born Killers feeling almost as bludgeoned as some of the title characters' victims. It's a non-stop assault on the senses, and sensibilities, of the audience that can give even the most hardened moviegoers a queasy feeling.

The movie has some interesting, and valid, points to make. But the way in which director Stone chooses to make them calls into question just how serious he is about them. He's trying to say that the media (and "true crime" media junkies) are at least partially responsible for the increasingly violent nature of our society. Glorification of monsters like the serial killers here egg them on to greater excess, give them a justification for their crimes, and inspire others to commit more violence.

Trouble is, Natural Born Killers is an example of just this kind of glorification. Harrelson and Lewis not only turn in performances that are tours-de-force of the craft. But they play such hip, sexy and magnetic characters that they make mass murder look like a 'way cool turn-on.

To be fair, Mickey and Mallory are somewhat pathetic figures, too. Victims of every kind of abuse (a lot of which is graphically shown in flashbacks) they gain their freedom by becoming even more monstrous than their parents were. And, at least in their subconscious, they're plagued by horrific memories.

But the overall impression they give is of a hip, yet giddy, excitement at all they've been able to accomplish.

Not only does the message of Natural Born Killers tend to bring on nausea, but the medium does, too. I suppose it's done on purpose, but the cumulative effect of two hours of tilt-angle shots, rapid-fire combinations of every possible kind of film stock, surrealistic special-effects backgrounds, etc., is simple visual exhaustion.

Some of the cinematic points are extremely well-done, especially a capsule review of Mallory's abusive family life done as a TV sitcom, complete with laugh track. Taken by themselves, these showy bits of cinema would be effective devices. But when they're piled on each other with no time for us to catch our breath, much less reflect on their meaning... Lack of restraint definitely cancels out technical virtuousity in Natural Born Killers.

A final warning for parents: this movie was originally given an NC-17 rating, which would allow no one under 17 in, even with parents. That's its proper rating. The violence by itself is perhaps no worst than any R-rated shoot-'em-up. But the cinematic connection of violence and sexuality is something that people in the process of forming their sexual and emotional identities just don't need to be confused with.

September 7, 1994

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