Director Tony Scott
Screenplay Quentin Tarantino
Starring Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Samuel L. Jackson, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek
It’s one of the films that’s grown in stature after a failed release. I saw it in the 90’s and was ambivalent. Mostly I had tired of Tony Scott’s directing style. Positive word of mouth for the script as Tarantino’s career took off notwithstanding, I resisted the urge to revisit until recently. Quarantine in effect, it finally came back into the periphery.
The story is about an Elvis fan and comic book store owner Clarence Worley (Slater) coupling up with Alabama (Arquette). She is a prostitute hired for his birthday, who becomes infatuated with him and ends up marrying him. From this point, the film catapults into fantasy land. In taking on Alabama’s pimp Drexl Spivey (Oldman), Clarence ends up with a massive payload of uncut cocaine. Immediately, the Worley’s decide to take their newfound loot to Los Angeles in order to sell the drugs to bigger dealers at less than market so they can skip down to Mexico and live on the profits.
In their wake, Clarence’s father (Hopper) is questioned by Vincenzo Coccotti (Walken) in one of the great scenes for either of their remarkable careers. This leads the mob to Los Angeles in order to catch up with their product.
The cast is an embarrassment of riches. Val Kilmer has several scenes as Elvis and we don’t even see his face. To be able to have Hopper, Walken, Gandolfini, Oldman and Pitt for less than 10 minutes apiece with not one of them being a major character is remarkable. The best scenes don’t involve the leads.
The script feels like something of an autobiography to Tarantino before he hit it big. That a comic book store employee who loves movies could, because he decides to, take on the mafia is ludicrous. That he succeeds at nearly every step is beyond that.
Even so, Scott’s streamlining of Tarantino’s story makes his oddball observations less noticeable to those who aren’t looking for them. There are benefits, such as when Gandolfini’s Virgil happens upon Alabama, which is drawn out to an agonizing brutality. Penn and Sizemore’s gung-ho detectives are hilarious. Brad Pitt’s drugged out Floyd is an incredible resource, continually giving up the locations to random people for no conceivable reason. He’s just helpful.
The things that still hold back Scott’s films are still in effect here. Fight scenes are poorly edited, to the point where it’s hard to tell who is still living, until they get up and walk. Slater and Arquette are good, but they never bring anywhere near the star power required to rise even to the level of their co-stars. Bronson Pinchot’s delightfully pathetic middle man Elliot Blitzer is likely to be the best of his career. Saul Rubinek is as good playing his boss, producer Lee Donowitz.
The result is a good, not great first script. There are two fantastic moments and many good ones to boot. It’s not much more than that, even as Tarantino’s legend rises beyond what anyone imagined.
(***1/2 out of *****)