Natural Born Killers Movie Review

Violence got the star treatment in the early '90s. With much of America feeling powerless to stem the crime and gang culture that seemed to be on the rise, we began to react to the ocean of carnage that dominated popular culture. Congress held hearings about violence on television, the finishing moves in Mortal Kombat, and Body Count's otherwise obscure gangsta-metal single "Cop Killer." For a while, blaming the pervasiveness of fake violence for real-world murder and assaults came to be as fashionable as flannel shirts and ripped jeans.

And yet, America kept consuming it. Snoop Dogg sold millions of CDs, video games amped up the gore, and children could quote the grisly details of the O.J. Simpson murder trial as if it were written by Dr. Seuss.

Among this bipolar atmosphere of fascination and revulsion, Oliver Stone made Natural Born Killers. Not quite a satire, not quite an exploitation flick, NBK was an epic, frenzied, wildly entertaining meta-movie that skewered the sick symbiosis between violent criminals and the media/Hollywood/celebrity complex. It was met with acclaim by those who got it, and derision by those who didn't.

The mayhem of NBK begins when Mickey (Woody Harrelson), a working-class bumpkin whose spirit has been poisoned by too much TV, rescues his teenage girlfriend Mallory (Juliette Lewis) from her household. The home, a filthy sitcom set complete with incessant laugh track, is lorded over by a darkly abusive and unforgettable Rodney Dangerfield.

Mickey's liberation of Mallory begins an amoral Southwestern road trip of killing, hallucinogens, torture, kidnapping, and more killing. At the end of each spree, they leave one survivor to tell the story to a ravenous press. Their exploding fame, popularity even, drives sadomasochistic super-cop Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) to hunt the two like a ravenous grizzly stalking prey, while tabloid TV producer Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr with a sleazy English accent) tries to get the "get" with the couple as their reputation grows.

This is not a normal movie, even for Oliver Stone. Mickey and Mallory's scattered psyches splatter the screen with rapidly switching media that jumps from sitcom to animation to cheesy movie set to video to grainy black-and-white, often for just seconds at a time. And Stone makes NBK exhilarating by artfully adorning the killing scenes with imaginative photography and rock music, incurring among his audience the uncomfortable effect of simultaneously enjoying and tsk-tsking the violence. Some critics labeled it hypocrisy, but NBK brilliantly leaves the attentive viewer with more questions as to whether they're part of the solution or the problem itself. It's as if Stone is saying, "Of course entertainment is violent and violence is entertaining. Look, I'm doing it right now. So what are you going to do about it?"

Natural Born Killers is neither porno nor sermon; it's both, and it works miraculously.


Natural Born Killers Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1994


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