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Warners Giving ‘Born Killers’ a Light Promotional Touch : Movies: The studio is downplaying the film’s nonstop violence in ads, and some exhibitors predict a short run. For others, the title alone is a turnoff.

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“Natural Born Killers” may be unfurling on the silver screen on Aug. 26 with all the gore its name implies, but Warner Bros. is only cautiously hyping its violent content and satirical message in movie trailers, TV and print ads and bus-stop billboards.

Cautious is the operative word, since Warners doesn’t want to appear overly zealous in taking advantage of the media frenzy--similar to the one in the film--that surrounds the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

And in fact, while director Oliver Stone’s parody alludes to some of the Simpson coverage in his film, the movie’s marketing campaign avoids it completely.

Sources at the studio say that there are several reasons for the relatively low-key approach. Some say the Warners brass is still queasy about releasing the film because of its nonstop violence. Others, including competitors and some exhibitors, believe that the film will have a short run at best because of its violence.

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Robert Friedman, Warners president of worldwide advertising and publicity, declined to comment on naysayers’ predictions and said that studio executives are completely behind the film.

“This movie speaks for itself. The violence in this film is meant to be satirical,” says Friedman. “And we never intended to trivialize the message in this movie by sensationalizing it. We believe this movie really has something important to say.”

The film, which stars Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr. and Tommy Lee Jones, is about a serial-killer couple (Harrelson and Lewis) and a contemptible talk-show host (Downey) who interviews the country’s most vicious killers for his tabloid show “American Maniacs.” The satire is supposed to target the media’s insatiable appetite--in this case, Downey’s show--for broadcasting violence, desensitizing its viewing public to horror and making heroes out of murderers.

Friedman dodged specifics on the marketing of Stone’s message. But one Warners source said that the studio decided to get a three-week jump on pushing the movie “because it’s a unique property that has to be handled in a unique way.”

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Translated, says another, “that means handle gently and build momentum as best you can in a crowded summer, because this one may very well blow up in your face.”

One source involved in the film called the trailers and TV ads “cartoonish. It’s almost as if Warners was trying to mask how violent this movie is by downplaying it the way they did in the ads. You can’t really tell what the movie is about.”

Not true, say those in Stone’s camp. The director, vacationing in Asia, could not be reached, but reportedly signed off on the campaign, which highlights the satire. Stone has had his differences with the studio in the past, primarily over cutting 64 violent scenes to get an R rating.

But even with the cuts, some exhibitors think that the movie is a tough sell. For some, the title alone is a turnoff. “It’s no date movie,” adds one.

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“It’s true that some exhibitors have said they don’t like the movie and are predicting that it will come and go fast,” says John Krier, head of Exhibitor Relations. “But people should wait and see. Warners generally knows what they’re doing and they have a good relationship with exhibitors.

“And even if it is true that they are nervous about the movie, they would stand behind it and never reveal it,” he notes. “Besides, they are known for being willing to take a loss to keep their relationships. And Oliver is one relationship they would want to keep.”


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