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Feb 6, 2007

The TRUE ROMANCE Syndrome

One of the most copied movies since it's release in 1993 is TRUE ROMANCE. I'm not exactly sure if it's the movie itself, or more Quentin Tarantino's "hip" violent mayhem storyline and "hip", edgy (I hate that word) pop culture laced dialogue, although I kind of think it's probably a high quotient of both.

The ironic thing of course that TRUE ROMANCE itself is a copy. It's lifted from Terence Malick's BADLANDS starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek -- everything from the voice over style to the music score. The only difference between the two is that BADLANDS takes on the idea of the lost, disillusioned youth during the turbulent Vietnam/Watergate 70s, while TRUE ROMANCE has the vibe of live fast, die young, go out in a blaze of glory, take the easy way to a better life. Christian Slater's character is completely influenced by the media -- he's a loner who spends his spare time reading comic books and catches double features of obscure action movies on his birthday. Then along comes Alabama (Patricia Arquette) his first real fling, and she's come from the school of life where she's only dealt with the scum of the earth (Gary Oldman's Drexel) and here is this sweet loner who's willing to drop it all, kill and sell drugs to allow them to have a better life.

TRUE ROMANCE is one of those rare movies to come along in that it was released at a perfect moment, and somehow all the planets aligned to provide the film with elements that just fit so perfectly together that the final product has become a cult classic. It became one of the quintessential movies of the 1990s (although not by critics, more-so during it's subsequent video releases), and kind of set the tone for much of the following decade. First off, it is one of the early examples of Tarantino's writing, which in his recent works now has become so obvious as an attempt to be hip and laced with just how pop culture savvy Mr. Tarantino is, that it now taints his work and any imitators. Then there is the casting, filled with such great small character moments provided by the likes of Brad Pitt (the man has maybe 4 lines and steals the entire movie), Christopher Walken, Bronson Pinchot and Dennis Hopper to name a few. In fact, the supporting cast is more memorable than main star Christian Slater -- although Patricia Arquette holds her own very well. Then finally, throw in the quick cutting and super slick style of Tony Scott, not exactly a great director, or even a remotely good director (see THE FAN, DOMINO, MAN ON FIRE, THE LAST BOY SCOUT or TOP GUN -- I've always hated this movie -- as examples of annoyingly loud and obnoxious films. I'll be getting to DOMINO more in a moment) but somehow his faults don't drag this movie down as much as the others mentioned. I have to say, I don't think TRUE ROMANCE is particularly a good film either, but somehow, every time I watch it, I can't help but find some new reason to like it (unlike Tarantino's PULP FICTION which I find that each new viewing provides several new reasons to hate it). I think what kind of works is that Tarantino is not directing his own work, so the material is reigned in, and that Tony Scott just has so many things going for him on this movie, that even he can't screw it up.

Which brings me to why I have brought this up in the first place. In the past few weeks, I have seen SMOKIN' ACES and finally got around to forcing myself to watch DOMINO, both obvious by-products of the TRUE ROMANCE mold. In fact, my review of SMOKIN' ACES is simply this -- it's the last 10 minute gun fight of TRUE ROMANCE spread out into an annoyingly loud and gut wrenchingly (in a BAD way) violent film. DOMINO is very much like ROMANCE in that it has a lot of big names showing up in smaller roles, has much the same scummy underbelly of society vibe, is a bit of a road trip with characters getting into situations that don't suit them at all, and the gunfight at the end, with 3 factions all pointing guns at each other and blowing the Stratosphere in Las Vegas to bits is virtually the same thing (complete with poor innocents -- in ROMANCE it's Pinchot wearing a wire for the cops, and in DOMINO it's the BEVERLY HILLS 90210 stars who are involved in a reality TV shoot featuring these bounty hunters, but end up "celebrity hostages" instead). The difference is that DOMINO is a mess. It's a film with no heart, an exercise with an ever moving camera and super-quick cuts to hide the fact that there is nothing there to hold the 2+ hours of movie that Scott has unleashed on us. I think I've just grown tired of these nasty movies with desert locales, and scummy, tattooed, gun toting freaks (passed off as the "norm") that aren't even remotely likable. This movie even has a narration track that keeps changing formats from clear, to sounding like it's coming from a walkie talkie, etc., that beckons the ultimate question of...why? It's an annoying trick, and that and the shaking camera (which Scott employed to the hilt in MAN ON FIRE) and of course the blown out lighting (see TOP GUN, BEVERLY HILLS COP II and THE FAN for more examples of super-stylized and annoying Tony Scott lighting) is now getting to the point of not impressing audiences, but in fact boring them completely. Mr. Scott, we're privy to these tricks now, time to start getting scripts with a story.

SMOKIN' ACES is one of the first films that is officially a 2007 release (it was released in January) and like Roger Ebert did when he proclaimed BATTLEFIELD EARTH the worst movie of the new millennium even though it had only come out 3 months in (his reasoning, there is no way anything could be worse, and so far, he's been right) I'm calling this one of the worst films of 2007. It's already on my bottom 10 list for '07. This is a heartless movie, with despicable characters, almost incomprehensible dialogue which in a vain attempt to cover up the poor writing, is laced with the most expletives I have ever heard in a film to date, and so much useless, unmotivated violence that I can actually say that for the first time ever, I was off-put and disgusted with the amount of and nature of the violence in the movie (if there were a movie to get me to join one of those lame parental groups trying to regulate games and movies, this one would almost convert me) and all I could think of is...wow, this is trying to be TRUE ROMANCE. I looked around at the audience surrounding me and saw a theatre filled with teens, all dressed like wannabe gangsters (I heard a lot of "fuck" and "shit" being thrown about before the lights went down, pretty much punctuating every sentence) but was surprised that after the movie in the lobby, most of them voiced their hatred of the film! So filmmakers beware, if you can't even fool a bunch of brainless teenagers (who really aren't as brainless as they appear) that think that half turned baseball caps, baggy jeans and large army snow-camouflage jackets somehow is a decent way to dress into thinking your film is good with all the gimmicks, then you need to look deep within yourselves and realize that the jig is finally up.


I'm almost tempted to re-watch TRUE ROMANCE after all this, but am afraid that I'll start seeing the faults that I know are there, and start hating it. So I'll wait until maybe May when the bad taste of these two "films" are hopefully cleared from my palate.