Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language, and for Sexuality and Drug Use
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer & Samuel L. Jackson
Quentin Tarantino is a master at what he does, but he doesn’t have a few lesser films here and there. It may be blasphemous, but I think the KILL BILL movies are a bit overrated. TRUE ROMANCE is a Quentin Tarantino film that doesn’t quite fall under his name in the usual sense. Instead of directing (which he originally planned to do), Tarantino just wrote the script and sold it to another director. Some minor tweaking was done, mainly to the ending, but I have a feeling that this was pretty much the vision of Tarantino, rather than Tony Scott. This being said, TRUE ROMANCE may be a cult hit, but it’s got some problems.
Clarence (Christian Slater) is about to go see a kung-fu triple feature, when he runs across Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a pretty young woman who seems to be into him. Three Sony Chiba movies later, the two are bonding over eating a pie at a diner, then they return to Clarence’s apartment. After some steamy sex, Alabama reveals that she is a call girl but has fallen deeply in love with Clarence as the night as gone on. Throwing caution to the wind, the two lovebirds get married.
Clarence is still a little edgy about Alabama’s pimp, Drexl. The ghost of Elvis (Clarence’s idol) appears to him and tells him to go confront the dreadlocked dead-eyed creep and let him know that Alabama is done with him. Things go sour, the pimp is killed and Clarence mistakenly takes a suitcase full of cocaine from the scene. Now, Clarence and Alabama are on the run and have to contend with the sinister gangsters who want their cocaine back, along with some cops who are investigating these stolen drugs.
TRUE ROMANCE is a movie that nearly gives away all of its good scenes within the first hour. The confrontation between Clarence and Drexl (played by a creepy-ass Gary Oldman) is my personal favorite scene in the movie. Everything from the background music to the carefully chosen words that continue to escalate the tension is absolutely essential to giving the audience a memorable showdown between hero and freaky villain. In lesser hands, this role of a wigger could have been a stereotypical joke, but Oldman blends into it and makes it absolutely terrifying to watch.
Dennis Hopper shows up as Clarence’s father and lasts about two scenes, while Christopher Walken is an intimidating gangster. It’s a pity that Walken’s stone-cold killer only appears in one scene. As the movie progresses, I was expecting him to come back in a big way, but it was not to be. James Gandolfini is also quite evil as a gangster who isn’t afraid to beat a woman halfway to death.
You may notice that I am only mentioning the villains and that’s part of the problem with TRUE ROMANCE. For the protagonists, Clarence and Alabama seem like one note characters. They’re in love. That’s about it. There are bits of exposition given about Clarence’s troubled relationship with his father, how much he loves comics and how Alabama also adores Elvis, while being smitten with Clarence. It’s throwaway stuff. The movie also throws in the subplot with the cops in the final 30 minutes as almost an afterthought. Things build to a cool few final scenes, but there’s a good chunk of movie that drags.
TRUE ROMANCE has a cult following and while the film is a blip on the radar of when compared to other crime-thrillers, it is a decent flick. There are some major issues I have with the film that ultimately deterred my enjoyment of it. This is a perfect example where some edits would have made for a more tense and cool flick. The main couple experiencing the “True Romance” as it were, weren’t exactly worth rooting for either. They almost seemed like cardboard cutouts with a few more inches to thicken them up. Overall, the film is worth a look but is far from Tarantino’s best writing or Tony Scott’s best movie.