Ashley Judd flares like lightning. Her hot, sexy and violently unsettling performance in John McNaughton’s Normal Life is a high-wire act that would win her a stack of awards if this indie film had any chance of a run before being shipped off to video. Judd plays Pam, a factory worker, astronomy buff and new bride to Chris Anderson (Luke Perry), a rookie cop who puts this comet in a pumpkin shell — meaning a tacky row house in a flat Chicago suburb — and then tries to catch the pieces as her fragile, delusional head explodes. It’s heaven in bed for Chris with this carnal wildcat, but her mental illness reduces everything else in their normal life to scorched earth.
Pam is a borderline personality, and when she crosses that line, she takes poor love-besotted Chris with her. He loses his badge and starts robbing banks to bring home money. She doesn’t want cash; she wants to rob banks with him. He’s careful; she isn’t Guns go off; people get killed. It’s Bonnie and Clyde Go to the Mall. Screen writers Peg Haller and Bob Schneider based their script on a real story. But McNaughton, who directed the notorious cult item Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, wants to probe the pathology of the relationship. The conflict between the docudrama and the psychological study sometimes throws the film out of whack, but the two stars keep you riveted. Petty plays Chris with a dazed tenderness that suggests there is life beyond 90210. Judd hasn’t had this juicy a role since her 1993 debut, in Ruby in Paradise. Her energy blasts through the script’s familiar territory and makes Normal Life compulsively watchable.