Christian Slater Double Feature: True Romance (1993) & Broken Arrow (1996)

Even though Reservoir Dogs required my brain when I first watched it around the age of 16 and I became a little obsessed with Quentin Tarantino, I only ever watched True Romance one other time and only remembered a few random scenes (Clarence and Alabama visiting his dad, James Gandolfini visiting Alabama). Tarantino wrote this one, but Tony Scott wound up directing it. I used to know all the details as to why, but they’re lost in the fog of memory.

It’s funny watching this film now, knowing more about Tarantino than I did back then at how autobiographical the flick is. Actually, I’m not sure if that’s the right word, it seems more like that kind of what if daydreaming creative types do on a regular basis: what would I do if I loved a woman I just met who happens to have been a prostitute for a few days? I do that all the time, though not that specific scenario. You see the parts of Tarantino in the beginning of the film, a guy in early adulthood working in a seemingly dead end job (for Tarantino it was a video store, for Clarence a comic shop), he loves watching Sonny Chiba movies and even winds up at a pie shop afterwards (Tarantino famously wrote Reservoir Dogs in LA’s House of Pies). Aside from a fascination with Elvis and some Hollywood encounters, I’m not sure how much of the movie stays autobiographical, but it’s interesting to see those early elements in there because they point to the writer very specifically.

Like many of Tarantino’s crime flicks, this one feels a lot like an Elmore Leonard book. Clarence and Alabama get married right away, Clarence tries to deal with Alabama’s pimp, something very unexpected happens and Clarence does his best to deal with it. What I like about Clarence is that he’s kind of every writer’s dream. He was this guy living a regular life, but when put to the test he succeeded, this geeky guy was able to defend his woman’s honor and even make the best of a bad situation. After his encounter with her pimp, he’s like an all new man, but one who still makes plenty of pop culture references. I posit that most writers have this kind of fantasy kicking around their brains. I think Slater absolutely nailed the subtlety of this role without being too on-the-nose with it.

I dug this movie for all the above reasons and more. It’s an amazing film to star watch in as it’s packed to the gills with recognizable actors. Brad Pitt plays a stoner on a couch, James Gandolfini a mob heavy. Heck, I even recongized the woman playing a casting agent. Even if you don’t know everyone’s names, you will spend the entire movie going, “Hey, it’s THAT guy.”  But even if the film was packed with people I didn’t recognize, it’s a pretty amazing crime story mixed with a love story that always keeps you guessing. Who’s being honest? Who’s lying? How will this all end up? Who’s going to survive? Those are great questions to have while watching a movie and I’m glad I wasn’t obsessed with it in high school or college so they were still bouncing around in my head.

I must take a second to talk about the brief comic book scenes in the film. First off, that’s the craziest comic book store I’ve ever seen. Secondly, shame on the DVD’s subtitles for spelling it “Spiderman.” Third, what issue of Spider-Man was that? He says “Spider-Man #1,” which I assumed meant Amazing Fantasy #15, but it looks like a straight 90s joint. I distinctly saw Sleepwalker in one panel. Is it literally Spider-Man #1 from 1990? If so, no wonder that dude hasn’t gotten laid in a while. Lastly, I remember this movie getting called out a lot when I worked at Wizard any time we did a “comic geeks in movies” story. Because it was mentioned so many times, I figured that there were tons of comic book references therein, but this one scene is pretty much it. It’s like Tarantino felt the need for one comic book reference in each of his movies and no more. I’m sure I’m missing some but there’s the Joe/Thing comparison in Reservoir Dogs and of course Bill’s Superman speech at the end of Kill Bill 2.

From one kind of film to a drastically different one, I finally watched John Woo’s Broken Arrow starring Slater and John Travolta. While True Romance is a smaller, grittier story about people trying to make the best of a bad situation, Broken Arrow‘s more of a straight up, world-hanging-in-the-balance action flick. From what I know, both are pretty damn good examples of what their respective directors can do.

Broken Arrow was one of the many mid 90s action movies that I saw trailers for and even ads in comics, but didn’t actually get to see. I would have been 13 when this movie came out and my parents were pretty strict about the whole not seeing R-rated movies thing. I’ve caught up on quite a few of them in my movie watching career since then, but Arrow here eluded me until the last few days (it took me three sittings to actually get through it, not because it’s bad, but because I’m old and kept getting sleepy).

Anyway, the movie follows two pilots, Slater and Travolta. Travolta has decided to steal some nukes and Slater makes it his mission to stop him with the help of a park ranger. Unlike something like True Romance, there’s not a lot of subtelty for Slater to play with here, but there is a huge opening for Travolta to mug like a maniac and chew scenery like a hungry hungry hippo. And, you know what? He’s FANTASTIC at it. Seeing Travolta in this film reminds me a lot of Nic Cage in his more bonkers roles, the ones where he really cuts loose and just acts the maniac that I assume he is. This makes me want to watch Face/Off again.

I liked Broken Arrow for the most part, but it’s not really the kind of movie I’ll want to watch over and over again and I don’t think it would have been if I had seen it back in high school, though you never know. I’m not a big fan of the park ranger, she doesn’t have much screen presence, though she can kick some ass. Speaking of the fights, they were pretty good, but how many action scenes on moving trains have we seen? It’s not super duper exciting past the inherent danger of fighting on a train. However, I thought the underground/mine stuff from the middle of the film was actually pretty rad. This is the perfect kind of movie to check out on a lazy Saturday or to pop on in a marathon with some friends or some beers, but not necessarily the kind that you need to add to your collection. Still, I had a great time watching.

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