‘True Romance’ (R)By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 10, 1993
"True Romance" aims to be a "Bonnie and Clyde" for the '90s, but its aim isn't true -- it's just "Bonnie and Clyde" for an MTV generation with a short attention span and an even shorter emotional range. Despite its noir references and evocations, this slick film, directed by Tony Scott from Quentin Tarantino's script, is a preposterously bloody mess, as is the plot.
No amount of style can excuse the fool's blood that rains down on "True Romance." The movie may be stylistically visceral, but it's aesthetically corrupt. It might as well have been called "Pump Up the Violence."
Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) is a seemingly amiable Detroit loner who worships Elvis (who drops in from time to time to give bad advice), has a steady job in a comic book store and is spending his birthday alone at a Sonny Chiba kung fu triple bill in a seedy theater. He's suddenly joined by buxom flutterbrain Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette), a white-trash rookie prostitute who turns out to be a birthday party favor from his boss. It's love at first light for 'Bama and Clarence. The morning after includes a City Hall wedding and matching tattoos. Ain't love grand?
Because 'Bama needs her clothes, Clarence goes to her pimp's house, taking a gun with him -- a first hint of malevolence. Drexl Spivey (Gary Oldman, playing a dreadlocked would-be homeboy who has just murdered his clients in a drug buy) proves nastily proprietary and is brutally dispatched. When Clarence gets home -- bringing with him a bag of burgers and a suitcase that turns out to be filled not with clothes, but a fortune in uncut cocaine -- 'Bama coos: "I think what you did was so . . . romantic." How much viewers support that proposition may color their enjoyment of the film.
Clarence and Alabama head for Los Angeles in his purple Cadillac, hoping to unload the coke. Matters become complicated when assorted mobsters and police departments enter the picture. 'Bama gets beaten to a pulp, but manages to extract revenge. Clarence hooks up with a Hollywood gofer (Bronson Pinchot) who connects them to a swinishly amoral producer-director (Saul Rubinek), and the whole situation comes to a head (a blown-off one, basically) in the most ridiculous Sam Peckinpah-John Woo parody imaginable.
For his rogues' gallery, Scott has assembled a Psychos R Us ensemble in which Dennis Hopper -- Dennis Hopper! -- is the voice of reason and responsibility as Clarence's dad. Unfortunately, Hopper's big scene is chewed face to face with Christopher Walken, playing a Sicilian-style mobster who's in "a vendetta kind of mood," particularly after Hopper goads him with some venomous racial insults. Like the film, Walken goes ballistic.
Since Tarantino's reputation was made with the sadistically ultra-violent "Reservoir Dogs," and director Scott has shown a penchant for lurid, stylized violence in "Revenge" and "The Last Boy Scout," "True Romance" would appear to be a match made in the hell of Hollywood. And in a film that smashes romantic illusion in its face, the only relief comes in the fun poked at Hollywood's rituals of flamboyance and egos run amok. It's not enough.
Ironically, one drawback is scriptwriter Tarantino's genuine gift for gab: His characters generally talk it much smarter than they walk it. But the amphetamine-driven script is much better in its conception than its execution. Since both "True Romance" and "Reservoir Dogs" are built on the premise of things going suddenly, terribly wrong, it seems appropriate that things fall apart. Blame it more on Scott than on Tarantino.
But the central failure of "True Romance" is its inability to bring anything new or fresh to the "young outlaw couple on the run" cliche, regurgitated just a week ago in "Kalifornia" (whose star, Brad Pitt, does a Butt-head-style cameo here). As Alabama, Arquette is a cipher who seems oblivious to her circumstances, while the bland Slater clearly has no clue as to what makes Clarence gun.
The lovers exist in a moral vacuum in which 'Bama actually believes her judgment on Clarence: "You're so cool." Few will agree.
"True Romance" contains some nudity and lots of graphic violence.
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