True Romance (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It's dangerous to live in Quentin Tarantino's world, as Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) discovers in the explosive True Romance. When Clarence, a loner with a love of low-budget Kung Fu movies, meets Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette), a callgirl, it's love at first sight. After a heady night spent in each other's arms and out on a billboard making true confessions, the two decide to get married. After that, at the advise of an Elvis (Val Kilmer), who inhabits Clarence's mind, the young bridegroom decides to go to Alabama's pimp (Gary Oldman) and tell him that she's through working. A vicious gunfight ensues, leaving two people dead and Clarence with a suitcase of high-value cocaine that everybody, including mob boss Vincenzo Coccoti (Christopher Walken), wants to get their hands on.

There's good news and bad news about True Romance. The good news is that it's written by Quentin Tarantino, the man who made a stunning splash as the writer/director of last year's Reservoir Dogs. The bad news is that he didn't direct it. At the helm instead is Tony Scott, the man who foisted Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II on us.

Like Reservoir Dogs, True Romance is filled with witty dialogue; sharp, macabre humor; and more bullets and blood than one would think likely for the running time. Tarantino's script is loaded with energy and brimming with power. This film is a wild, wild ride whose slower moments are still punctuated by one-liners that only one other screenwriter (David Mamet) seems capable of penning.

Director Scott tries his hardest to turn this film into a typical Hollywood picture suitable for mass consumption. His style lacks punch -- he goes for the safe, pretty shots that can be found in almost any action film. It makes one wonder how different this movie might have been had Tarantino made it. His methods, which borrow heavily from John Woo and Martin Scorcese, are stark and crisp, and probably would have complemented the script nicely.

The story, however, isn't seriously damaged by the pedestrian direction. However deeply Scott was involved in the film's production, he left much of the script intact (except the ending, which he turned into a cop-out). Those who have seen Reservoir Dogs will recognize the similarities, which include a hilarious opening conversation (True Romance's is about Elvis where Reservoir Dogs' is about Madonna's "Like a Virgin") and a multi-sided, drawn-guns showdown.

One memorable scene is a confrontation between mob don Christopher Walken and Clarence's father (Dennis Hopper). Sparks, as well as any number of racial epithets, fly during this visceral and violent tete-a-tete, which includes some of Tarantino's best dialogue and Scott's most proficient direction. Walken has never been more sardonically menacing, and Hopper somehow manages to give an impression of restraint. In a word, this four-minute gem is astounding.

The romance between Clarence and Alabama seemed forced. Necessary though it is to the plot, it's rushed through too quickly, and I had a hard time accepting how desperately in love these two are supposed to be. However, while their romantic chemistry is in doubt, they make great partners when it comes to crime, bloodshed, and being on the run. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (whose appearance is unbelievably different from that of her last part, in Ethan Frome) are reasonable choices for these roles, knowing how to put the right amount of energy into Clarence and Alabama without turning them into caricatures.

Tarantino is a hot prospect now, which is good for anyone who enjoys this kind of intense, unapologetically violent thriller. True Romance is vastly inferior to Reservoir Dogs, but it gives his fans something to chew on until his next project (to be called Pulp Fiction) is released next year. Despite Tony Scott's occasional blundering, True Romance is still a visceral roller coaster.

True Romance (United States, 1993)

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Saul Rubinek, Bronson Pinchot
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Music: Hans Zimmer
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 1993-09-10
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1