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‘True Romance’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 10, 1993

Sifting through the bloody, pulpy trash of "True Romance" -- should you care to -- you'll find amusing, smart-alecky nuggets planted by screenwriter Quentin Tarantino. But most of the time, you'll be spattered by the plasmatic action fare of director Tony Scott, who probably ought to be registered somewhere as an exclamation point.

In this MTV-generation version of "Bonnie and Clyde," Christian Slater is a comic-book store clerk, still unable to shake off that Jack Nicholson imitation. He also speaks privately to Elvis. The King -- or some shook-up version thereof (Val Kilmer) -- talks back, in the manner of the Humphrey Bogart-Woody Allen mentor relationship in "Play It Again Sam."

Celebrating a lonely birthday at a triple kung-fu movie show, Slater meets charismatic floozy Patricia Arquette. It's love at first sight. But when Slater finds out Arquette is a call girl in bondage to dreadlocked pimp Gary Oldman, he decides -- romantically -- to restore her honor, "Taxi Driver"-style.

A bloody melee later, Slater and Arquette (now married) drive into the romantic sunset for points west. The trouble is, Slater has stolen Oldman's million-dollar stash of uncut cocaine, which he intends to unload in Hollywood. He's also left an easy trail to follow: His driver's license was dropped at the scene of the crime and he's given his dad (Dennis Hopper) the L.A. address of buddy Michael Rapaport, where he'll be staying for a while.

By the time Slater and Arquette get to California, Oldman's bosses are in vengeful pursuit. The inevitable confrontation is further complicated when undercover cops Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore get wind of the narcotics. The finale becomes something of an Ealing farce -- in which everyone wants the coke -- as envisioned by the director of "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop."

Although the gore factor -- which puts a serious drain on the nation's blood-pellet supply -- can be pinned on Tarantino, it is his non-bloody qualities that make any of this movie worth it. With a cine-kid savvy (developed from years working as a video store clerk), he pulls from flicks galore, especially the gangster/kung-fu shelves. Amid the violence, the one-liners ring out. Nobody speaks for real. It's as if they all know they're in a movie.

"I killed him," says Slater, coming back from that initial slaughter scene. "You want some hamburgers? I'm [expletive] starving to death."

"What you did was so romantic," coos Arquette.

The performers, a veritable who's who of hip, take their lines and run with them. There's a priceless scene in which mafia hood Christopher Walken tries to get information on Slater's whereabouts from tight-lipped Hopper. Before the impending macabre punch line, both actors cook up a darkly comic dialogue of polite menace and racial epithets. Oldman is a campy stitch as a cream-skinned pimp who insists on being thought of as black. Saul Rubinek makes an amusing drug-fiend producer; and Brad Pitt is memorably stoned throughout his scenes as Rapaport's addled roommate. When a hood comes to the house and asks him with poisonous condescension where Slater and Arquette can be found, Pitt tells him. After the gangster leaves, Pitt mutters to himself: "Don't con-denn-send me, man."

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