The Action Mutant…
says Cheaters is the greatest show in existence!
review by Joe Burrows
You know how people get all indignant when an artist covers a song they think has no business being covered? Funny thing is that it never stops anyone from trying. The Beatles’ “Yesterday” is the most covered pop song of all time, the works of Shakespeare have been constantly reworked and Gus Van Sant still managed to get work after his 1998 carbon copy of Psycho. Such is the director Tony Scott, an auteur who has sailed the range from slightly praised (Man on Fire) to maligned (Domino) to wildly over-praised (Top Gun…Gayest…Movie…EVER!). So, were things fine with everyone when the man that used to reside in Ridley Scott’s shadow directed the script of who would soon become the hottest Hollywood entity in ages? Well, the fact that the Quentin Tarantino penned True Romance is still talked about to this day kind of shows it has stood the test of time.
The Plot, As It Was:
Christian Slater (remember that guy?) plays Clarence Worley, a hapless Detroit comic book store clerk who gets the ultimate birthday present: a hooker named Alabama who looks like Patricia Arquette (played by…Patricia Arquette!). Despite the odd convergence, the two fall in love and get married literally days later. In cutting off all of Alabama’s old ties, Clarence is mentored by the image of Elvis (Val Kilmer!) to go kill Alabama’s scummy pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman). After blowing Drexl away, Clarence accidentally grabs a suitcase with $500,000 worth of coke in it. The couple decides to drive out to Hollywood to sell the coke for cheap, using a clueless actor wannabe (Michael Rapaport) and his friend (Bronson Pinchot) as the links to an abrasive producer (Saul Rubinek). However, their tracks aren’t well covered and they are pursued by the mob and the police, culminating in the requisite bloody finale.
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
I tend to be a bit Tarantino biased, since Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were very influential in formulating my view of how far film could go. He may have been (rightly at times) raked over the coals many a time since then and his style may have been copied more times than the Pamela/Tommy sex tape but one cannot deny that he knows how to milk cinema’s conventions to its max. Even though he didn’t direct his work (he sold the script to help finance Reservoir Dogs), Tony Scott manages to form this film into quality, balls out entertainment. Everyone is on their game and giving a performance that is distinctively different from the next. Slater and Arquette make a great duo and lead a monstrous cast, including Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s dad, Christopher Walken as a mob boss, Rubinek as the film producer, Chris Penn & Tom Sizemore as two volatile cops and Brad Pitt as the ultimate “guy on the couch”. Oldman does another great chameleon act as Drexl, as he goes far with his accent and sleazy look in such a short amount of screen time. The film is populated by several memorable scenes (who have not attempted memorizing that verbal sparring match between Walken and Hopper?) and an undercurrent of retro-weirdness that may be just what you’re looking for (or it may turn you off, who knows?). On the down slope, the story is nothing new and one could argue that Scott over-slicked things a bit much (which is the risk run when your story gets sold). However, TR scores on sheer entertainment value, even if it’s not for all tastes.
Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Michael Beach (TV’s Third Watch) plays the black policeman during the final shootout.
- Though he’s not credited, hall of fame action heavy Ed Lauter plays the police captain.
- Jack Black appears in a deleted scene as a movie theater attendant (check the DVD for that one).
Body Count/Violence: 21. Everyone is shot to death in spectacular, blood splattering fashion (and often in slo-mo). The film isn’t consistently violent but gets very brutal when the time comes. Drexl’s dispatching and the Walken/Hopper scene are pretty gory but the scene that gets buried into my mind every time is the no holds barred bloodbath between Alabama and the ice cold hitman Virgil (James Gandolfini).
For the better part of five minutes, Virgil pummels Alabama mercilessly into a bloody mess. After throwing her through a plate glass shower curtain, she fights back and ultimately kills Virgil after setting him on fire, stabbing him in the spine with a wine bottle opener and shooting him repeatedly with his own shotgun. I point this scene out because this one lingers on the carnage for quite sometime, which makes it pretty disturbing. What’s even more disturbing is what the MPAA objected to, as it wasn’t so much Virgil’s beating of Alabama as it was her revenge (not quoting exactly but I believe they said they felt it turned her into “too much of a savage”). How fucked up is THAT?!? My guess is that the MPAA’s collective cock shrunk at the sight of a woman employing her own revenge. Utter ridiculousness.
Sexuality/Nudity: Slater and Arquette have a sex scene near the start, where her breasts and his butt are briefly glimpsed. They also do the nasty in a telephone booth and though nothing is seen, it’s implied pretty roughly. Arquette dresses in some pretty revealing outfits, like any self respecting movie hooker does.
Language/Dialogue: According to IMDB, the F bomb is dropped a good 225 times, so it’s safe to say its Tarantino’s script. There’s a bunch of other language as well, both profane and sexual (like when Sam Jackson says “pussy” seemingly ten times in one sentence). And NO ONE says “cocksucker” quite like Saul Rubinek!
How bad was it?:
Much like one of its inspirations (Bonnie and Clyde), TR wasn’t praised by critics initially. Of course, Tarantino became the hottest thing in H-Wood and, within a few years, many who had originally panned it were suddenly kissing QT’s ass and saying it is his great lost work. Most reviews still remain mixed and some don’t like just because the man himself is not at the helm, which I feel is a great mistake.
Did it make the studio’s day?:
Warner Bros. had the temerity to release TR on 9/10/93, one week after its blockbuster The Fugitive brought in $17.2 million its opening weekend. It debuted in 4th and never really had a chance after that, slipping down into 11th before being taken out to pasture. Made on a $12 million budget, TR barely equaled its cost in its original run, though it has been quite the video seller since Tarantino’s name grew.
Entertainment value: *****/*****
Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.