Quentin Tarantino’s bona fides, established by the success of Reservoir Dogs, led to production of his script for Tony Scott’s overpraised and over-copied True Romance, a deafening whiz-bang, shoot ’em up. A comic book store clerk in Detroit, Clarence (Christian Slater) happens upon a whore named Alabama (Patricia Arquette) in a movie theater during a triple feature of kung fu flicks. Alabama likes kung fu flicks, a true romance is born, and Slater is driven to confront her pimp (Gary Oldman, playing black), in the process unknowingly stealing a million dollars worth of cocaine from the mob. He and Alabama are soon off to L.A. to sell the coke, and bloodshed ensues.
Tarantino’s voice is dominant, and we get a steady dose of racial epithets, tough guy jargon borrowed from previous genres, movie references (two on Steve McQueen) and the like. On the plus side, we also get a few taut and funny exchanges, the best being the fencing between Slater’s father (Dennis Hopper) and the mob underboss (Christopher Walken).
Unfortunately, the actors all appear to be vying for the Best Supporting Actor in a Quirky Scene of Tarantinoesque Patter, and many are not up to the task. Hyped-up cops Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn are particularly awful, but Gary Oldman’s excess nears embarrassing and Saul Rubinek’s Hollywood producer is a tiresome cliche’ of every oily movie mogul you’ve ever seen in film. While Walken and Hopper can do something with Tarantino’s writing, they are aided by their set piece scene, which is essentially two monologues. Those who are asked to act have a rougher go.
Which bring me to the leads. Slater handles the tough-guy patois but there’s no heart. He’s a loser but doesn’t feel like one. He’s a tough guy but doesn’t project. Mainly, he’s a nasally Nicholson wannabe who becomes increasingly grating. Arquette is better, but she’s not good, nor is she much more convincing. Her “whore with a heart of gold” is trite and cloying, and it isn’t until a later scene, where she fights for her life with the psychotic hit man James Gandolfini (in prep for Tony Soprano), that she communicates any depth.
Recently deceased director Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State and numerous other flashy, soulless action pictures) papers over the dull leads with a brisk pace, but his super shootout clusterfu** of a finale is laughable. It’s hard to identify what is worse – the implausibility, the slo-mo explosions, or the fluttering feathers from shot up pillows – but coupled with Tarantino’s by now played out macho dialogue (before an execution, Penn actually says, “this is for Cody”), this is as bad as it gets. Sadly, this kind of thing spawned a generation of allegedly hip, super violent copycat films.