In order for a satire to succeed, it must blur the line between exaggeration and reality. The reader, or in the case of a movie the viewer, must believe what he or she is seeing. Only after a few moments of reflection will the true meaning sink in, the object of derision be spotted and the author's point be made. In Oliver Stone's new release, "Natural Born Killers," none of the qualifications for satire are met. Instead, Stone pummels the viewer with a series of images, linking the plot together as if he, not just the two main characters, is suffering through a bad trip. He tries arrogantly to throw the movie at you and sneeringly demands that you acknowledge the Art he thinks he has created. But in fact, with his disjointed plot structure and blatantly flexing, self-indulgent film-making techniques, Stone ironically fails to create a satire of America's love of serial killers. Instead, he commits the crime he is trying to satirize: he numbs the audience's senses senselessly.
The disjointed, erratic plot follows two star-crossed, gun-toting lovers who spend two weeks killing more 5than 50 people across the country. While the original screenplay comes from the masterful Quentin Tarantino, writer and director of the tight, punchy stunner of a film, "Reservoir Dogs," apparently Stone changed the script so much that Tarantino only wanted to be credited with the original idea, not the script itself. I don't blame him for wanting to be as far removed from this fiasco as possible.
Very simply, Mickey, played hauntingly by Woody Harrelson, begins the spree by freeing his lover from her abusive parents. Juliette Lewis plays the high-pitched, writhing partner and bonded-by-blood lover, Mallory. The two of them kill masses of people but always leave one survivor to attest that Mickey and Mallory Knox were the perpetrators. When are tabloid press gets wind of them, their intention to secure their 15 minutes of fame seem to have come to fruition. To tell more would be to give away the rest of the film, but suffice it to say the substance of the plot ends here.
Throughout the movie, Stone cannot resist indulging his overt, slap-in-the-face style. Has this man never heard of subtlety? One of the many instances occurs when Mickey comes to save Mallory. The entire episode is packaged as a sitcom fully equipped with fake, plastic decor creating a surreal aura reinforced by track laughter. This seems acceptable enough. Yet Stone takes what could have been a clever idea and pretentiously exploits it beyond meaning. The modern-day knight arrives enrobed in his bloody butcher shop apron carrying 50 pounds of raw meat. His scantily-clad damsel in distress comes down the stairs, their eyes meet and he is determined to help her escape the wiles of her abusive parents. After Mallory's father, played by Rodney Danger field, propositions her with, "Hey bitch, why don't we go up and take a shower together," there's offstage track laughter. When Mallory's mother tells her son that the only reason he was conceived was because his father mistook his own bed for Mallory's: laughter. The episode finally ends when Dangerfield's character is drowned in the family aquarium and her mother is tied to her bed and burned alive; it's funny. We see all too clearly the point Stone is attempting to make, and all too clearly how he fails, over and over and over again.
The one thing to commend Stone on this film is the film-making itself. He is stretching the boundaries of where the techniques of film-making has been taken. He employs unusual lighting, off-kilter camera angles, animation and special computer effects which distort the stills. He uses clips from old films one after another in odd places: westerns outside hotel windows, horror flicks making up the horizon where they drive. In the hands of a more skillful story teller, Stone's visual talent could reinforce instead of detracting from the point being made. Unfortunately, though, Stone seems too arrogant to allow his voice to be hampered or his visual talents honed. As he has shown with some miserable movies in the past, and as "Natural Born Killers" only serves to substantiate, if Stone does not lose his arrogance and rein in his talent, his is only destined to continue making deplorable, overt failures of movies that happened to be visually superb.