At a quiet desert diner out in the middle of nowhere, a waitress takes an order for a couple who have just walked in. As the man partakes of the key lime pie, the woman dances provocatively to the jukebox, and flirts with another of the patrons, but he is shocked when she hits him. This sparks a bloodbath in the diner as the couple proceed to murder almost everyone in the place, leaving one witness to tell about what they have done. They are Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) and are passionately in love. They are also violent killers who go on a murderous crime spree, becoming a media sensation in the process.
Oliver Stone used Quentin Tarantino's original script as the basis for his savage attack on the media and the society that spawns admiration for its worst criminals, though then then-new kid on the block Tarartino was less than pleased with what he regarded as a bastardisation of his original intent (he had wanted to direct the material himself). As almost always with Stone's films, it's a flawed, overblown piece of work, though here he seemed more tone deaf than usual. He criticises the media for glamourising violence, but nobody glamourises Mickey and Mallory more than Stone does - he seems to gloss over the fact that movies are part of the media too.
Because our heroes' love is true, everyone out to get them is shown as worse than they are - TV news hack Robert Downey Jr (sporting an Australian accent that made him sound like Rocko from TV show Rocko's Modern Life) will sink to any depth for ratings, cop Tom Sizemore is actually a murderer himself (and has written a trashy autobiography, too!) and Mallory's overbearing father (Rodney Dangerfield) abuses his family. In fact, the film is deeply suspicious of each character who do not have the central couple's bloodlust, or rather they do have the capacity for criminality, yet are not pure of heart like Mickey and Mallory, who murder for honest reasons: showing up hypocrisies in society gets them a free pass, apparently.
The film grinds to a halt after Mickey and Mallory are captured after their rampage across the Southern States, and the film is transformed into a prison movie for the second half, complete with the clichés that go with that genre, and then not even a prison riot (movie cliché number one) can save it. It's flashy, tedious, heavy-handed and self important; there's even a little "did you see what I did there?" montage of real-life criminals at the end, for the hard-of-thinking; this really did undervalue the audience's ability to discern and process what they were routinely given to watch. The characters talk and pontificate endlessly, to a maddening degree, which would be all right if they had anything worth hearing but are frankly too much of a bunch of straw men (and women) for their chuntering to land: Mickey's live interview was particularly irksome in its self-serving vacuity.
All that and it provided the most annoying actress to emerge in the nineteen-ninetiess with her most celebrated role, like everyone here overacting wildly as if they were hicks in a Roger Corman moonshine mini-epic - Tommy Lee Jones as the prison warden practically twirled his moustache and cackled. Ironic that NBK was falsely blamed for some real-life crimes, isn't it? That was serving the piece with far too much credit, and it was shameful how far many went in going along with its blatant button-pushing, thereby proving a point that was pretty obnoxious on its own. Any hope of intelligent debate was scuppered when the reasonable side against the tabloid's moral panic was delivered with such crashing petulance: Mickey and Mallory's fans were presented with a smugly patronising acceptance that they would be hero-worshipped and not the subject of horrified fascination at best, as would happen in real life with all but the thickest of media consumers. Also with: minor cult actress O-Lan Jones in the diner as the waitress, heavyweight Pruitt Taylor Vince as a guard, comedian Steven Wright as a psychiatrist, and pre-GodzillaMaria Pitillo. Watch for: some animation, which is appropriate seeing as how everyone in this might as well be a cartoon character.
Didactic, aggressive and in-your-face American writer-director who, after directing a couple of horrors (Seizure and The Hand) and writing Midnight Express and Scarface, settled into his own brand of political state-of-the-nation films like Salvador, the Oscar-winning Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, JFK, Natural Born Killers and Nixon. Slightly out of character were The Doors and U-Turn: respectively, a celebration of the late sixties and a sweaty thriller. In 2004 he experienced his biggest flop with Alexander, a historical epic, but followed it with the reverent World Trade Center and a biopic of then just-leaving President George W. Bush. A belated sequel to Wall Street and gangster movie Savages were next. Say what you like, he has made his mark and loads of people have an opinion on him.