When Quentin Tarantino made his debut last year as the writer and director of Reservoir Dogs, there was no question that a rabid new talent had arrived to bite the ass of conventional filmmaking. Tarantino’s movie-obsessed take on the world is the driving force behind True Romance, the savagely funny thrill ride based on the first script this former video-store clerk ever wrote. As Clarence Worley, Christian Slater plays a kung-fu and Elvis worshiper much like Tarantino. No sooner does he meet Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette) than Clarence is proposing marriage and defending her honor against her dreadlocked, drug-crazed, mob-connected former boyfriend Drexl Spivey, played by Gary Oldman as if there was no such thing as overacting.
Soon the newlyweds are fleeing Detroit for Los Angeles to sell Drexl’s cocaine to Hollywood types, acted with spectacular sleaze by Saul Rubinek and Bronson Pinchot. But first the couple stops to say goodbye to Clarence’s security-cop dad, Clifford (Dennis Hopper), who later runs into trouble with mob hit man Vicenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken). The blistering confrontation scene between Hopper and Walken — both in peak form — will be talked about for years. It’s pure Tarantino: a full-throttle blast of bloody action and verbal fireworks.
If the rest of True Romance never quite hits those heights of hothouse theatricality, maybe it’s because some fool forgot to hire Tarantino to direct his own script. It’s baffling why the plum job fell to Tony Scott, the Britisher known for slick commercials and such megaton star vehicles as Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II. It’s like pissing away your money for ripped jeans with a designer label. But the true grunge of the script wins out. And even Scott can’t neuter the performances. Slater is terrific, reminding us of the vigorous promise he showed before sinking in the shallows of Kuffs and Mobsters. And Arquette delivers sensationally, especially in a vivid scene in which she gives a ballistic thrashing to the hood who’s just beaten the bejesus out of her. Arquette and Slater make a wildly comic and sexy pair of bruised romantics. Everyone shines, right down to the smallest bits from Brad Pitt as a stoned innocent to Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis. But it’s Tarantino’s gutter poetry that detonates True Romance. This movie is dynamite.