True Romance — a movie review


I can’t remember if I watched True Romance the first time before or after I watched Reservoir Dogs, although I’m certain I watched neither until after I watched Pulp Fiction. If I had to guestimate a date, I’d say I watched it around 1997. This would have been three years after the movie bombed in the theaters in 1994.

I had both a Blockbuster and Hollywood Video membership card in those days, and the ability to watch movies in longer than fifteen-minute segments without falling asleep or otherwise losing interest. I moved to Arkansas, the first time, back in 1997, which is why I believe I watched the movie then, although I’m going to give myself a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2 years.

I understand more clearly how my brain works these days, so I know that the next time I think about this, I’ll be 100% certain I watched it in 1997.

In case you’re wondering why I’m mentioning this Tony Scott-directed movie alongside Quentin Tarantino’s first two flicks, it’s because the movie is based on an early Tarantino script. I believe I knew this before watching it, since Pulp Fiction was my entrée to the world of QT, and I’m almost certain the movie would have been placed alongside Pulp Fiction (or, perhaps, Reservoir Dogs) on the Blockbuster racks as a recommendation. There’s an outside chance that I picked it up merely because I’m a fan of action shoot-’em-ups, but I can’t shake the feeling that I knew Tarantino was involved in this somehow when I watched it the first time.

The reason I think I may have watched Reservoir Dogs before this movie is because I remember, vividly, comparing the two while watching them. Of course, I may have been comparing Dogs to Romance rather than the other way around, but that doesn’t feel right, somehow. Both have traits that I associate with Tarantino movies. Over-the-top violence and gunplay is one of these traits. Seemingly off-topic, pop-culture conversations (whether about Sonny Chiba movies or Elvis, still pure QT), and offbeat characters are others. Plus, a Mexican stand-off during the climax.

This one features strong but strange performances by a lot of familiar actors, including Val Kilmer (as the ghost of Elvis), Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, a young James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman (in dreadlocks), Brad Pitt, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Tom Sizemore, Saul Rubinek, and Samuel L. Jackson, to name just a few. Our two leads are Christian Slater (as Clarence) and Patricia Arquette (as Alabama).

Clarence is a comic-book store clerk who meets call-girl Alabama at a grindhouse movie theater while watching kung fu movies. The two fall in love, steal a bunch of cocaine from Alabama’s pimp, then take it to LA to sell for a quick payday. Everything goes wrong, lots of people die, but we still get a happy ending.

While I still thought the movie was fun during this rewatch, I have to admit that I didn’t like it as much as I did the first time. The violence is often cartoonish and the ending is unlikely and a bit too saccharine. But, in many ways, it’s like seeing early rough sketches completed by someone who develops into a master artist. The Tarantino spirit is certainly on display, even if it seems a few degrees off from his best work. The story moves at a frenetic pace and is thrilling and funny, often at the same time. It earned its R rating with language and violence.

Not nearly as good as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. Truthfully, not as good as any of Tarantino’s other movies, although it has his unmistakable imprint.

Firewater’s See-Me-in-Another-20-Years Report Card: B


If you’re a Tarantino completist, you should watch this one for the lively dialogue and performances that often out-class the material. You’ll find things to like here.

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