The footprints of dozens of classic thrillers are imprinted on the slick, violent and energetic “True Romance.” One of the endless variations on the couple-on-the-run subgenre, yarn provides some amazing encounters, bravura acting and gruesome carnage. But it doesn’t add up to enough, as preposterous plotting and graphic violence ultimately prove an audience turnoff and will limit the film’s commercial prospects.
The odd couple of the piece are Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette), respectively a young man working in a comic-book store and a gal on the job on the streets of Detroit. Alabama has been hired, without Clarence’s knowledge, to be his birthday date. But the not-so-chance encounter blossoms into true love, marriage and an abandonment of her former career.
Clarence, on the pretense of picking up Alabama’s suitcase, walks into the lair of dreadlocked pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman). Better judgment would have him steer clear of the haunt, but this is a movie. During a scuffle Clarence kills Drexl and grabs what he thinks is his wife’s suitcase — of course, it’s the wrong one.
Opening the Pandora’s box reveals a fortune in uncut cocaine. The young man is smart enough to know he’s in a lot of trouble. He also foolishly believes he can skip town, sell the stash and escape to some remote paradise — in this case, Hollywood.
Building on a shaky premise and relying on coincidence and sleight-of-hand, “True Romance” rides along largely on the power of its colorful rogues’ gallery. In addition to Oldman’s gleeful incarnation of evil, there’s dopey fun to be derived from Brad Pitt’s space cadet and Saul Rubinek as a Hollywood producer whose ego transcends morality, law and common sense. Slater and Arquette provide a charged sexuality to the proceedings, elevating the essentially inane material.
Sure to elicit the most notice is a scene between Mafioso Chris Walken and Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s ex-cop dad. It is a testament to the two actors that their work transcends racist dialogue and in-your-face brutality.
Movie mavens have a veritable field to plow in the Quentin Tarantino screenplay. Cinematic references are rife, but the story’s downfall can be credited in part to the writer’s wholehearted embrace of both the best and worst of the noir canon. Pic also suffers because its reality base is other films, with only glancing reference to the outside world.
Tony Scott effects a slick style that is visually arresting if too obvious. Entire film is elegantly packaged on all levels. Still, it doesn’t blunt the inevitable disappointment when unwrapped.