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Naked Lunch

A grotesquely humorous concoction, cooked up by Canadian director David Cronenberg with a little help from America's favorite underground novelist, William Burroughs. The Burroughs novel from which the movie is adapted is nearly devoid of narrative, but Cronenberg has sidestepped this problem by making a film about the writing of Naked Lunch. The movie combines elements from Burroughs's life--particularly the accidental shooting of his wife during a drunken game of "William Tell"--with scenes from several of his books to tell the story of his transformation into a writer. It opens in New York City in the early 1950s, where Burroughs's alter ego, Bill Lee (Peter Weller), is working as an exterminator. His problems begin when his wife, Joan (Judy Davis), turns him on to the narcotic qualities of the bug powder he uses. Under the influence of the powder, Lee hallucinates his way into an alternative realm where he is a secret agent for a ring of giant, infinitely disgusting beetles. The bugs instruct him to kill his wife and go to Interzone, a fictional city loosely modeled on Tangiers. There, Lee encounters an assortment of literary types and other shady characters, has conversations with typewriters which metamorphose into--you guessed it--giant bugs, and indulges in some exotic, mind-altering substances. The result is a hallucinatory, often stomach-turning take on the bohemian life that incorporates loosely drawn portraits of Burrough's contemporaries--Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Paul and Jane Bowles--as well as conjuring up the nightmares of drug addiction and the excruciatingly painful process of writing itself. The director has come up with some of his most imaginative--and unpalatable--images to date, ranging from two-foot beetles which speak through sphincter-like openings in their backs, to giant, rubbery creatures which secrete a sticky, narcotic fluid from--ahem--organs that sprout from their heads. A treat for Cronenberg fans, though this could hardly be called a gripping, or emotionally involving, story; you're more likely to need a can of bug spray than a hanky.