Best and Worst of 1994 (Movies): ‘Natural Born Killers’ / ‘Speed’ / ‘True Lies’ (12/94)

Speed Up
“It doesn’t have any soul,” a friend complained about Natural Born Killers, but if it did it’d be unwatchable—in fact the one killing that hurts, the first, Mickey gunning down the terrified, pleading waitress for no reason on earth, almost upends the movie, almost poisons the pleasure you might take from it after the fact. Still, nothing really gets in the way of the torrent of amazements that drives the picture, most notably the horrible little sitcom where Rodney Dangerfield makes a perfect family monster without changing an eyelash of his stand-up act. Still, that doesn’t make Natural Born Killers the year’s best anymore than the lifeless Quiz Show was the worst.

There’s something enormously appealing about watching Keanu Reeves be competent: as in Point Break, in Speed there’s nothing natural about his movements, no grace. He seems to earn the right to get from one place to another, and for most of the film his cop is trying to keep up less with Dennis Hopper’s fiend than with Sandra Bullock’s citizen bus-driver. Sure, it’s Die Hard on a bus, but the Die Hard movies were wonderful (with the villain in Die Harder based hard and fast on Oliver North—where are the movies when we really need them?), even if Bruce Willis was the only good guy who ever got to kill anybody (except for the blond avenger shot by the black cop at the end of number one). In Speed there’s an economy of violence that’s also a democracy of heroism. Plus, a surprise ending: how many people even knew there was a subway in Los Angeles? (There isn’t, yet: this fall, construction on the L.A. Metroline was stopped when it caused the partial collapse of nine blocks of the Walk of Fame.)

Lies Down
I can’t decide what was worse about the arrogance of True Lies: the idea that there might be something titillating about watching Jamie Lee Curtis gyrate in a thong, or the notion that a gun falling down steps would wipe out a platoon of bad guys without any need of direct human agency (sufficient that, having last been touched by a good guy, it was therefore blessed)—a notion that might forever discredit all interestingly unbelievable stunts, even in retrospect (Richard Burton diving from one airborne cable car to another in Where Eagles Dare). Having given Arnold Schwarzenegger his comeuppance for The Last Action Hero, critics felt the need to rehabilitate him this time around, as if they’d proved their power and would now do it again, like the congressional Democrats who rushed to prop up Ronald Reagan after Iran-Contra broke. But they won’t have to pay to see True Lies Two.

Artforum, December 1994

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