For our short this week, Zak showed a clip from a somewhat-obscure (but often worth it) sketch comedy show called “The Whitest Kids You Know.” The skit was called “Polite War” and was an overdramatization of Revolutionary War British Troops adapting to the rules of modern warfare.
For our feature presentation this week, Zak brought us True Romance, directed by Tony Scott. Kind of. See, due to a bit of a SNAFU, we watched the film as cut by the scriptwriter. Which would be really, really weird if the scriptwriter wasn’t Quentin Tarantino. True Romance slotted in between the independent Reservoir Dogs and Tarantino’s real break Pulp Fiction, so it’s not terribly surprising that he farmed it out originally, and then wanted to get his fingerprints back on it once he had the caché to do so.
And he kind of ruined it.
Tarantino made two major changes to the film – he changed the ending, and he took Tony Scott’s linear script and started it in the middle. To be fair, Tarantino re-cut the film as the screenplay was actually written, but unlike Pulp Fiction (boy, Tarantino does love his non-linear scripts, doesn’t he?) it doesn’t fit the story in my mind. One should also keep in mind that since Scott shot it for a linear script, the awkward transitions might have been a bit more sensible were it to be shot for a non-linear one.
Anyway, in a nose-thumbing to Tarantino, I’m going to recap the film in linear fashion.
Clarence is a lonely record store employee. Alabama is a freshly-minted call girl, hired by Clarence’s boss to “accidentally” hook up with him on his birthday. The plan works only too well when Alabama falls for Clarence and eventually has to admit her deception after a steamy night. Clarence takes it like a champ. No, seriously, he’s totally cool with it. And they decide, then and there, to get married. Normally that would be Bad Decision #1, but really, they were perfect for each other so I’ll give that one a pass. There’s only one problem.
Drexel, Alabama’s pimp. The thing is, Drexel probably didn’t really care all that much about losing a hooker he’d only employed for a week or so. But Clarence had to make Bad Decision #1, so he headed off with a gun to Drexel’s place, and long story short, shot the place up, killing Drexel and a lackey and heading off with a suitcase of Alabama’s things.
But then, there turned out to be another problem, because Alabama simply didn’t fit into the hundreds of thousands of dollars of cocaine they found in the suitcase. Whoops! Time for Bad Decision #2 – crossing kingpin Christopher Walken.
Clarence decides that instead of ditching Christopher Walken’s stolen coke, he’s going to head out to Hollywood and sell it. But in the hopes that he can get away with his murder of a small-time drug dealer, he heads over to his estranged father’s place. You see, his dad (Dennis Hopper) is a former cop and can make some discreet inquiries.
It’s about here that Tarantino, for no apparent reason, starts his film.
The conversation is a bit awkward. “Hey Dad, meet my wife, killed a guy, the cops onto me?” Of course, the cops think it’s drug-related so Clarence and Alabama head out nonchalantly to Hollywood while Walken tracks down Dad.
This leads to one of the greatest scenes in movie history, wherein Hopper, certain that he will be killed, goads Walken into killing him before he can give up Clarence’s whereabouts. And it would have worked if it weren’t for the note on the fridge (Bad Decision #3).
Meanwhile, Clarence (who talks to Val Kilmer’s Elvis in the mirror) and Alabama roll into Hollywood and hook up with an old buddy of Clarence’s (said buddy trying to break into the acting business) in the hopes that he can direct them to someone willing to buy a suitcase full of coke. This is about where Tarantino decides to tell the beginning of the story.
Clarence’s buddy (played by Michael “I’m Not” Rapaport) hooks Clarence up with a big-time movie producer to pawn the coke off on. But unfortunately, the bad guys are on Clarence’s tail, and Rapaport’s stoner roommate (played by Brad Pitt, in his best role ever), keeps unwittingly tipping the baddies off to things like where Clarence’s hotel is. Letting a stoner know your every move: Bad Decision #4.
Which, of course, is why Alabama (sans Clarence away on business) returns to the hotel room to find James Gandolfini and a shotgun looking for you-know-what. She doesn’t spill the beans, so he ends up beating the living stuffing out of her before checking under the bed. Oh yeah, there it was.
Ecstatic that he’s found the coke, Gandolfini lets the barely-conscious Alabama take one shot at him with the corkscrew she’s just stumbled upon. So she stabs him in the foot, breaks a toilet tank cover over his head, and ruthlessly kills him. I think if he’d known he was in a movie, he’d have been more careful because obviously the director would be stacking the whole thing against him. Clarence shows up, and he and a bloodied Alabama bail out with the drugs.
Meanwhile, Clarence’s liaison with the coke-thirsty producer gets nabbed with some blow in his car and turns state’s evidence. So the cops know all about the buy about to go down. So, it turns out, do the druglords.
Clarence almost walks away from the deal because of a bad feeling, but decides to go through with it (Bad Decision #5), probably because Alabama thinks he’s just so cool. Of course, first the police and then the druglords burst in, and we’ve got ourselves a good ol’ Mexican standoff!
Now, if you had ever asked me where the safest place in the world to be during an all-out gun battle in a hotel room before I saw True Romance, I wouldn’t have known. It turns out, of course, that the answer is: In the bathroom, talking to an imaginary Elvis. Of course, when Clarence emerges, somehow not hearing the death and commotion outside, he gets shot in the eye.
The number of survivors is fungible. In the (preferable) Tony Scott cut it’s two – and Alabama drives Clarence down to Mexico and nurses him back to health on the beach, where they live happily ever after. In the Tarantino cut it’s one – and Alabama goes on an out-of-character voice-over rant about how not cool Clarence was after all. But you can just basically forget that ever happened.
Great, great movie, but let the Tarantino cut slide.