Film review: Naked Lunch

Published: Monday, April 12 1999 5:24 p.m. MDT

Some movies just try too hard to be hip, and David Cronenberg's adaptation of William S. Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" is certainly one of them.

Though this extravagant trip through the drug-induced hallucinations of a writer's mind is at times very funny, albeit perversely so, too often it bogs down into boring treatises that seem impenetrable.

That might also describe the book from which this movie springs.

Peter Weller, best known as "RoboCop," stars here as an exterminator in 1953 New York — who is really a writer, of course — with hallucinations that seem to be constant. We never see another point of view, so it's clear that Weller is so far gone that everything he sees is an extreme outgrowth of his own highly exaggerated sense of paranoia. (Although there are occasional quick shots that remind us briefly that there is a reality out there somewhere).

His wife (Judy Davis, who was in another writer's block extravaganza last year, "Barton Fink") is shooting up with his cockroach-killing powder and soon he finds himself off on an adventure as a spy, taking direction from a giant bug on his desk that doubles as his typewriter.

It isn't long before he's in Interzone, which resembles an old '40s movie version of Egypt, where he meets a variety of characters, none of them in the least bit likable and all of them seemingly on Weller's strange wavelength.

Among them are another writer (Ian Holm) and his sexually adventurous wife (also played by Judy Davis); various homosexual "boys" who hang out at the local bar; drug-dealers peddling "black meat," made up of dried Brazilian centipedes; etc. There is also an enormous amount of sexual imagery in various incarnations.

As an energized look inside the mind of a drug addict, "Naked Lunch" has some interesting notions. But in many ways it plays like a conventional thriller, with some of the twists telegraphed and others just too weird.

No doubt there will be a camp of moviegoers that appreciates "Naked Lunch" as something special, but from this corner, it's just an unpleasant alternate universe.

"Naked Lunch" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and an abundance of drug abuse.

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