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ENJOY EXPLOITATION? YOU'LL LOVE `NBK,' `COLOR'

Oliver Stone has hit paydirt with "Natural Born Killers," which earned some $27 million in its first week-and-a-half of theatrical play. He's also stirred up quite a bit of controversy.

And when he can do both, Oliver Stone is a happy man.Meanwhile, Bruce Willis has given us another clunker with "Color of Night" . . . all the more reason for his fans (however few may be left) to take heart now that he is shooting "Die Hard 3" for next summer.

Truly, "Color of Night" is one of the decade's more obvious big-budget stinkers. But - and this goes against the majority of modern critical wisdom - I'm afraid I didn't find "Natural Born Killers" to be up to snuff, either.

It may be less obvious, but "Natural Born Killers" is even worse than "Color of Night" in at least one respect - it pretends to be socially significant.

At least "Color of Night" has no pretensions about being anything but exploitative sleaze.

- "NATURAL BORN KILLERS" is Stone's effort to send up violence - both in our society and in our movies - as well as the media at large, which he believes revels in real-life horror for the sake of profit.

But Stone's attempt to break new ground with stylized visuals, MTV editing and a story that combines parody and satire, is more annoying than enlightening. No one ever accused him of being subtle, but with "NBK," as it has been dubbed, Stone is so in-your-face that after a while you just want him to get out of it.

Blending several film stocks - 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and videotape, as well as black-and-white, color - and using overlapping techniques, along with quick cuts, animation, redundant dialogue and tilted camera angles, Stone is attempting to conjure up the ultimate disorienting nightmare. This is a headache movie that means to make your head ache.

The story has a pair of glorified serial killers - "Actually, we're mass murderers" - on the run, racking up a 52-body count as they cross the country.

Psycho killers Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson, looking appropriately crazed, and Juliette Lewis, reprising her "Kalifornia" wacko) are in love, and they genuinely enjoy their life of crime-on-the-road together. They appar-ently believe that the family that blows people away together stays together.

Their killing spree begins with her family, as they brutally murder Mallory's abusive father (Rodney Dangerfield) and then set her complacent mother (Edie Mc-Clurg) on fire. This lengthy sequence is played like a TV sitcom, complete with a laugh track, though it seems contrived and idiotic instead of shocking.

They go on to kill an Indian shaman (Russell Means) who has befriended them (and who seems to be straight out of Stone's "The Doors"), find themselves celebrated as anti-establishment heroes on documentary-style TV tabloid shows (a la Stone's "JFK"), are pursued by a sleazy cop (Tom Sizemore) and eventually wind up in prison, where the nutso warden (Tommy Lee Jones) can't wait to see them fried on national television. And the most exploitative tabloid TV reporter in the country (Robert Downey Jr., affecting an Australian accent) hopes to make it happen.

There is much more, of course, but suffice it to say that "NBK" was, for me, a major disappointment, a genuine example of style overwhelming substance. While some national critics are hailing Stone's film as a triumph, a masterpiece of wit and nerve, I found it exploitative, self-indulgent and more than a little hypocritical. What's more, all of the snazzy technique seems fruitless, merely muddying up the narrative rather than making the material more compelling.

And since everyone around Mickey and Mallory - from her parents to their victims to the authority figures who pursue them - are more corrupt than they are, there is nary a sympathetic character among the entire cast. That's the point, of course. When you can't sympathize with society at large, you are forced to sympathize with Mickey and Mallory.

But I didn't sympathize with any of them. And certainly not with Stone.

"Natural Born Killers" is rated R for nonstop violence, gore, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.

- "COLOR OF NIGHT" is more notorious for what is not on the screen than what is. Quite a bit of the sex and nudity in this film was deleted, so the film could receive an R rating instead of the dreaded NC-17.

But what everyone seems to ignore in disputes like this is that if the movie is no good, it hardly matters. No amount of graphic sexual material could make "Color of Night" more interesting.

Now, a better script . . . .

Bruce Willis stars as a psychologist who has been traumatized because a patient jumped through his office window, which was way up there in a New York high-rise.

So, he heads for Los Angeles to be consoled by a friend and colleague (Scott Bakula), who just happens to conduct the weirdest weekly group session in the history of psychotherapy. Among the group patients are a kleptomaniac/-nymphomaniac (Lesley Ann Warren), a rough-and-tumble grieving widower (Lance Henriksen), an obsessive-compulsive bookish nerd (Brad Dourif), a psychotic painter (Kevin J. O'Connor) and a mannish young woman with a secret.

When Bakula is killed, apparently by a member of the group, Willis reluctantly takes over his practice - or his group, anyway - after some prodding by an overzealous homicide detective (Ruben Blades). And later, a sexy young woman (Jane March) enters the picture, apparently to provide sexual window-dressing, though she eventually figures in the mystery.

The problems here are many, but the worst is the plot itself, which is handled as a comedy-mystery, complete with goofy music whenever the group comes together for a session. The characters are thin at best, the plotting is completely illogical and after a short time, the mystery is obvious.

It's time Willis fired his agent. Or maybe it would help it he'd simply read the scripts before agreeing to star in the films.

"Color of Night" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.