Picks and Pans Review: Natural Born Killers

updated 09/05/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/05/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Downey Jr.

A whirl with dizzying camera and editing gimmicks, distorted images and sadistically graphic violence, this is a monstrously pretentious, tiresome and hypocritical movie that purports to find humor in hunger in Ethiopia, wife-beating and sexual abuse of children.

But then, why be surprised? Killers is the product of two of Hollywood's most overinflated egos, one belonging to Oliver Stone, who cowrote and directed the film he misleadingly calls a satire of violence; the other to Quentin Tarantino, writer and director of 1992's Reservoir Dogs, who came up with Killers' none-too-original plot concerning a young couple, Harrelson and Lewis, who murder their way across Middle America and become a media phenomenon.

Harrelson's eerily schizophrenic performance, veering from sweet-natured good old boy to murderer, provides some scant entertainment. But Lewis, reprising her deadpan slut-slayer role from Kalifornia, is never convincing. Downey, giving speeches that would embarrass Geraldo Rivera, is way overdrawn as the host of a "reality" TV show, American Maniacs. Ludicrous, too, is Jones, as the warden of the phantasmagoric prison where the killer couple ends up. Indian activist Russell Means appears as a shaman type who speaks in subtitled Sioux and loves snakes. Stone insists on a recurring image of rattlesnakes—apparently as a metaphor for instinctual killers—which is misplaced zoologically (rattlers kill chiefly to eat or protect themselves) and is an insult to American serpenthood.

In a rare moment of self-effacement, the director kids his own JFK by having an inmate reminisce about what a good shot Lee Harvey Oswald was. It's not much of a joke, but here, you're grateful for whatever relief you can get, comic or otherwise. (R)

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