Jarv’s Birthday Series: Natural Born Killers (1994)

Due to having to attend my little sister’s wedding on Friday, I’ve fallen a few days behind on this epic run. Therefore, the only way I have of redeeming myself is to bash out the reviews at more than one a day until I catch up. Fortunately for me, this is the 90’s and therefore I’ve got a truckload of great films to write about. Natural Born Killers (release date 26th August 1994) is, sadly, not one of them.

I’m a bit cross with this film. I remember its release and the furore caused by it (there were copycat murders in places like Paris, and the British Government overreacted and banned it). Nevertheless, I saw it on a bent Swedish VHS and loved it. I, admittedly, hadn’t seen it since then, so it was one of the films I was really looking forward to reacquainting myself with (the other is 1996’s Freeway). However, I’m sorry to report that NBK is a seriously unpleasant and tiresome film that attempts to make a satirical point about the media’s relationship with violence, but smothers the whole thing under a veritable grab bag of directorial shenanigans and is a hugely boring and frustrating mess.

Originally a script by our favourite Elphantitis-ridden egotist, Natural Born Killers was sold to Oliver Stone. I read that in his opnion, the final film is so bad that Tarantino actually tried to take his name  off it. How awful does a film have to be before Cokey McFrankensteinhead wants to do this? Particularly when you take into account that he’s the man responsible for such fetid bowel movements as Kill Bill, Death Proof and (although I refuse to watch it) Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino has a monstrous ego, and usually does write good scripts- to some extent. I think my favourite Tarantino film might well be True Romance, which was directed by Tony Scott, so therefore, a film written by Tarantino and directed by someone else should be right up my alley.

Natural Born Killers follows Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) around America murdering people, before Mickey eventually gets Rodney King-ed outside a convenience store and they are arrested. Robert Downey Jr’s scumbag journalist films Mickey, and the interview sparks a riot. Mickey and Mallory escape in the chaos. The end.

The performances are hugely patchy, with Woody and Lewis being OK (Woody is so likeable on screen that he almost manages to elevate the material), Tommy Lee Jones being insane, Tom Sizemore being sleazy and vilely unpleasant, and Rodney Dangerfield outstanding cast against type. Unfortunately, against this, Downey (clearly coked out of his gourd) is actively terrible. His accent is awful, his mannerisms irritating, and he’s so annoying that the film dies whenever he’s on screen. Nevertheless, the performances aren’t really the problem with this film.

The problem is the direction. Stone must have been on drugs here, because the film is frustratingly over-stylised. There are animation segments, stupid camera angles (the only other place I’ve seen them put like this is intergalactic scientology stinker Battlefield Earth), black and white, fast cut hallucinations, jarring stylistic sequences, entire sections shot in green, blue and other colours. The film suffocates under the weight of the direction and it’s to the detriment of the content. Actually, the stand-out sequence of the film is the “I love Mallory” sitcom sequence. It’s the story of Mallory’s terrible home life and is shot with a laughter track. This is superb- the content is noticeably NOT funny, being depressing and disturbing, but the laugh track circles around the seriously unpleasant lines that Dangerfield delivers. It accentuates the feeling of unease quite well, and is easily the best sequence in the film. Easily.

The rest of the time, the film’s stylistic flourishes are just annoying. Particularly bad is the sequence with the Indian which has fast cut demon images to show Mickey’s hallucination. It doesn’t work at all, the sequence is overly long, Mallory’s feeling of remorse towards him comes across as trite and doesn’t have any credibility. Furthermore, the riot where Downey  joins Mickey and Mallory doesn’t work either. Downey is a massive tool, but his conversion to the murder side is almost instantaneous and also completely nonsensical. I’m sorry, but the satirical point that the media’s coverage of serial murders is on a par with the actual murders themselves is horseshit. The media may be parasites, and revel in sensationalist material, but it’s disingenuous and overly simplified garbage to place them on the same level as a serial killing rapist (which is what Mickey is).

This, actually, is a problem with the writing. I don’t know who is to blame for this, but I would suggest that it doesn’t fit Cokey’s MO to plant such crap in a film. It does, however, fit Stone like a glove- and given that this is the man that wrote the incredibly violent Scarface, I think this is hypocrisy of the rankest kind. Furthermore, the fucking film is entitled Natural Born Killers, but the script goes to great lengths to point out that Mickey and Mallory are serial killing bastards entirely because of an abused upbringing. Their actions and motivations are “excused” by the script, repeatedly, and I would contest that the film doesn’t deliver on the title at all. This, actually, makes Downey’s Damascene conversion to joining Mickey and Mallory even worse, as he hasn’t suffered the upbringing that has defined Mickey and Mallory. It’s superficial hogwash, and this I personally found it actively insulting.

Overall, fuck this film. It’s terrible. It’s a poorly written, overstylised mess that was an absolute chore to sit through. I’m giving it one Woody Harrelson floating head out of 4, and that’s for the quality of Woody, Lewis and the sitcom scene. The rest of the film is an atrocious and garbled mess that I wish I hadn’t sat through. What the hell I was thinking of as a teenager when I liked it will forever be  a mystery, but I suspect that I thought fondly of it because of immaturity and that it was an illicit copy during the banned period.

Next up is 1995’s Desperado, which is a huge amount of fun and features Salma Hayek very naked indeed.

The full list in this series:

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

20 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series: Natural Born Killers (1994)”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    I’m not one one to defend banana head but I think the born part in the title is meant to be satirical when juxtaposed agaisnt the fact that Mickey and Mallory were created through abuse. There aren’t any “natural born killers” unless you consider being created, or born, means through physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

    Other then that minor quibble I agree with what you wrote this movie sucks something fierce and avoid Inglorious Bastards it make NBK seem like competent and well made movie.

    • Jarv says :

      The problem, though, is that Mickey refers to himself as a Natural Born Killer. Whereas he quite clearly isn’t. Either Circus Dome cocked it up in the writing or Stone fucked it up with his changes. Personally, I think it would be a better film if Mickey wasn’t “made” like Mallory.

      That’s the very least of the problems with this turd, though.

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    I forgot to mention that Oliver Stone is an awful director and a phenomenal douche bag of a human being. Between him and giant dome this movie was fucked from the git-go.

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    Desperado=Pure deep fried dumb house gold. I love that movie for it s rigid adherence to fun stupidity.

  4. ThereWolf says :

    Amazingly I’ve never seen this. Always meant to but it just kept getting away from me.

    I will see it though, eventually. I don’t mind Stone’s films, but he does come across as a giant-sized tosser.

  5. just pillow talk says :

    I’ve only caught a bit of this, but never really interested me to actually watch the whole thing. I don’t think I will search this one out either.

  6. tombando says :

    See i like stone. Jfk is great, nixon has a super cast, platoon holds up, on any given sunday is kinda fun too. But sure, u turn is crap, w is a made for tv film, it could be said for wall st too. I admire what stone is trying to do when he is on his game. I have no intention of seeing this, looks like crap. Cokey needs to go away

  7. Droid says :

    I remember liking this movie, despite its flaws. But it’s been over 10 years since I’ve seen it. I think it’s flaws would probably annoy me more too if I watched it again.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s approximately 15 years since I saw it, and honestly, it’s shit. Really bad, actually.

      Offensive in a few places, ill-conceived and quite obnoxious. Particularly when you take our feelings about directorial flourishes into account.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Yeah, I agree with Jarvik, i saw this only a few years ago, expecting it to at least be decent, but turned into yet another olly stone jerk off fest. is there a worse ‘big name’ director out there today – other than qt that is?

      • Jarv says :

        Shaylaman?

        Stone at least wrote Scarface and has directed some good films back in the day. Uwe Boll and PWSA are also worse.

      • koutchboom says :

        Naw M. Knight wrote Stuart Little which helped get Huge Lorry his start.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        ok, you got me with m. naught, i block him from my memory . yes, stone wrote some great flicks, sort of like what qt did early on, but stone directing in other than a linear fashion sucks, and even his linear work is sub par these days – although W was not bad. but when he goes off the rails into conspiracy stuff, hoo boy

  8. Droid says :

    Actually, Cokey wanted to take his name off the movie because he wasn’t getting things he was demanding and generally being difficult, leading to a falling out with the producers, Jane Hamsher and Don “Never met a cheeseburger I didn’t eat” Murphy. This falling out led to QT punching Chubs in a restaurant.

    • Jarv says :

      Wikipedia lied to me. Then. Or it may have been imdb.

      My research is notoriously bad.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve read Killer Instinct, by Hamsher, about getting NBK made. She paints QT as a petulant weasel. He apparently became difficult after Reservoir Dogs made him famous and thought he was king dick.

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