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Devils and Insects

Regular or Unleaded? Serial killer Amanda Plummer protests the soaring price of gas before embarking on another killing spree in "Butterfly Kiss."

Young killers on the loose prove once again that it is society that is the real culprit

By Richard von Busack

WHEN IS THIS CYCLE of serial-killer romances going to end? Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia, The Doom Generation, Frisk and now Butterfly Kiss. The repeated doses can only be likened to watching kids' movies. Kids are impulsive and cute and occasionally say profound things. But after too much time in their company, you begin to long for adult conversation to escape from the endless tantruming. That good old cracker-barrel notion--"Serial killers sick; society is sick"--has been underscored dozens of times on screen, and the idea is now about as transgressive as jaywalking. We've seen how undesirable weaklings are picked for the culling by our young murderers in love. Depend on it: I'm not shocked by such visual rhetoric; I'm bored by it. These movies state that only the young and the beautiful should survive. Nobody who isn't edgy like they are could possibly experience what it's like to frolic laughing through the waves and to playfully throw sand at each other, as our heroines do in Butterfly Kiss. You could bear the antisocial attitude if you could stand the essential schmaltz. The movie is worse than crypto-fascist posing--it's kitsch, it's Disney for the Goths.

We're in North England this time. Amanda Plummer plays Eunice ("Eu" = "You"--get it?), a grubby little transient thrill killer who picks up Miriam (Saskia Reeves) at the gas station where she works. Miriam is lured by the wacky way Eunice hoses herself down with gasoline from the pump. Under her clothes, Eu is decked out in chains, hooks and piercings--a kid's homemade Pinhead costume straight from Hellraiser. Eunice knows her Old Testament and is searching for a mysterious "Judith" (Holofernes' Biblical decapitator); the two of them motor around in a stolen car that has 666 on the license plates. I don't know about you, but when I see those three digits together on screen, I kneel on that sticky theater floor and I pray to my Jesus. We know where this deadly journey is headed, because the director thoughtfully provides us with black-and-white interview footage of Miriam in custody. Thus even such rudimentary suspense as might be built by their fate is unhinged.

A fairly good vocal coach must have taught Plummer the intricacies of Manchester speech, and she certainly considers this role the performance of her life, even though it is a performance of such monotony that it makes Lily Taylor's similar acting as Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol seem absolutely polyphonic. Naturally, the soundtrack is of equal one-dimensionality The Cranberries moan their dirges, interspersed with unidentifiable girls with open-chord guitars moaning wispily for a blood transfusion. Butterfly Kiss isn't the most simple-minded and deadly dull of its breed, but like most of these movies it's an insult to the craft, the pain and--through its sheer offensive trend-piggery--the committedness of real serial killers.

Butterfly Kiss (Unrated; 88 min.), directed by Michael Winterbottom, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, photographed by Seamus McGarvey and starring Amanda Plummer and Saskia Reeves.

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From the June 27-July 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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