Every once in a while, you discover the existence of an older film that sounds too good to be true. When I first discovered TRUE ROMANCE, I was astonished. I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films – so I was ecstatic to learn that he wrote TRUE ROMANCE. The film’s cast reads more like a list of all-stars than an actual film cast – including Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken. With that kind of acting caliber, and with Tarantino’s writing, I was expecting great things. Ultimately, though, I walked away disappointed.
TRUE ROMANCE tells the story of Clarence Worley (Christian Slater), a geeky loner who meets a call girl named Alabama (Patricia Arquette). The two promptly fall in love, causing a ripple effect that deeply impacts organized crime. When the two find themselves in possession of a ton of drugs, they decide to travel to Los Angeles and sell it for a quick profit.
As ridiculous as Clarence and Alabama’s love story initially is, I found myself completely invested at the start. These are two characters that are damaged in their own way, and they’ve fallen into each other by mere coincidence. It’s a whirlwind love that we can all relate to. My disappointment, though, is that their relationship is never further explored. The two characters are infatuated with each other for the entire film – there’s never a moment where they argue or question each other. It just doesn’t feel real. Similarly, these characters – as broken as they are – are incredibly one dimensional. Alabama is a former call girl, but there’s no deeper exploration of her past that allows for a better understanding of her mindset. Clarence is another missed opportunity – here’s a lonely loser, a guy who geeks out at kung fu movies and is so obsessed with Elvis Presley that he’s periodically visited by Elvis’s ghost (Val Kilmer). But the film gives no greater insight into what makes Clarence or Alabama tick. They are broken characters, but once they fall in love, it’s like they become different characters – and the nuance that makes their characters enjoyable vanishes.
TRUE ROMANCE is really an ensemble film, which allows for a ton of big name actors to appear. The downside, though, is that they typically only appear for just one or two small scenes. On their own, the scenes are typically incredible. The highlight of the entire film is a scene with Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. The scene is superfluous to the overall plot of the film, but the acting in this scene is so strong that the rest of the film feels lackluster in comparison. There are so many great small scenes with actors that appear just once or twice, only to never appear again. It also hurts that those small scenes are stronger than the overall film as a whole.
I was pretty letdown with TRUE ROMANCE. With a star-studded cast and Tarantino credited as the writer, perhaps my expectations were simply too high. It’s a fun film, sure. But it never comes close to reaching the potential that Tarantino films are known for. It’s a film where the individual parts are greater than the sum total.