True Romance (1993)

Clarence (Christian Slater, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves) is a comic book shop desk clerk and kung-fu movie enthusiast.  When Alabama (Patricia Arquette, Ed Wood) shows up unexpectedly to join him at a Streetfighter triple feature, the pair quickly fall in love and get married.  There’s just one problem:  the owner of the comic book shop hired Alabama to show Clarence a good time, and the threat of her insane pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) hangs over the couple.  Well, maybe not just one problem, as Clarence tends to spend a lot of time talking to his imaginary “mentor” (a barely seen Val Kilmer, The Saint, doing his best Elvis impersonation), and the mentor advises he go take Drexl out, which he does, but not before he leaves his driver’s license and one of Drexl’s girl accidentally gives him the suitcase full of coke Drexl took from Big Don (Samuel L. Jackson, Out of Sight).  Soon Clarence and Alabama are on the run to California, where they believe Clarence’s friend Dick (Michael Rapaport, The Naked Man) can help them sell the coke to super-producer Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek,   Unforgiven) through Dick’s acting class buddy Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot, Beverly Hills Cop).  Drexl’s boss, Blue Lou Boyle, sends his goons to find Clarence.  Will the young lovers manage to sell off their stolen drugs and escape to live in peace, and how many mob goons, cops, and Hollywood assholes will die in the process?

Between the release of Reservoir Dogs and the enormous success of Pulp Fiction, two other films based on Tarantino scripts, True Romance and Natural Born Killers were released.  Apparently, they came from different parts of one huge script.  Both films show why, whatever you think of Tarantino as a filmmaker, it is absolutely vital that he direct his scripts.  It is difficult to know what elements he would play seriously, and which would become humorous under his direction.  Here, his dialogue tends to fall flat and there are wild tonal shifts that Tarantino could pull off that the director, Tony Scott (Days of Thunder) cannot.  Scott’s smooth, flashy style, which makes everything look like a commercial or music video, feels ill at ease with the material in general, and makes the bloody battle between Alabama and a goon played by James Gandolfini (Crimson Tide) seem pornographic.  It is hard to say if Tarantino’s direction would save the script, which is pure autobiographical wish-fulfillment.  If you switched Clarence’s job to video store clerk, it’s easy to imagine Tarantino sitting at his store’s counter and dreaming up his entrance to the world of crime films he loved via a beautiful call girl named Alabama, though apparently the original ending was much darker than the one Tony Scott used.

True Romance, aside from a few overly brutal scenes that don’t work and the cloying fairy tale tone (played up heavily by the overbearing score from  Hans Zimmer,  Toys), is a reasonably entertaining crime film.  The action is plentiful and well mounted.  Arquette’s Alabama is beautiful, and beneath her naïve Marilyn Monroe exterior she’s a fighter, while Slater is at his least “Jack Nicholson” as the inexplicably ass-kicking Clarence.  More entertaining are the supporting cast, who easily bring more entertainment value than the principals.  In addition to Oldman’s over the top pimp, Rubinek’s unctuous producer, and Pinchot’s grade A douchebag, we get Dennis Hopper (Gunfight at the OK Corral) wonderfully underplaying it as Clarence’s estranged ex-cop father; Brad Pitt (Cutting Class) as Dick’s stoner roommate; Christopher Walken (A View to a Kill) as a Blue Lou’s cold-blooded consigliere; Chris Penn (Pale Rider) and Tom Sizemore (Strange Days) as cops who are more interested in a big bust than their informant’s life, and that’s leaving out the “Oh, hey, it’s that guys” who make up the goons and minor players, including Frank Adonis (Goodfellas), Kevin Corrigan (Trees Lounge), Paul Ben-Victor (The Wire), and Ed Lauter (Breakheart Pass).  The film moves at a crisp pace and looks good-only the “wish-fulfillment” script and the tone fumbles stop it from being a good movie instead of a merely entertaining one.  It’s easy to see how True Romance became a cable fixture.

I love how over the top the claims this trailer makes are-there aren’t even 30 people in the final confrontation, never mind 130!

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