The '90s don't get a lot of cinematic respect. Apart from a handful of acknowledged classics, film fans tend to overlook work from the rest of the decade. And that's a shame, because while the '90s might not be on the radar for a lot of cinemaphiles, there are plenty of good, ass-kicking crime and action movies to be found in the decade's film history. One such oft-forgotten classic, True Romance, is playing this weekend at the Esquire as part of the theater's Midnight Madness program. In honor of this screening, and to give you a few titles to look for the next time you scour a DVD bargain bin or need to juice up your Netflix queue, here are five forgotten action/crime gems from the lost decade.
5) True Romance Why not kick off the list with the film that inspired the list? There's no reason this movie shouldn't be acknowledged as a stone-cold classic. Let's start with Tony Scott, of Top Gun fame, directing a Quentin Tarantino script. Add Christian Slater before he turned into a parody of himself, and put him opposite a young Patricia Arquette. Garnish with then-largely unknown Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini in supporting roles. Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken drop in for unforgettable scenes, and Val Kilmer makes an appearance as an imaginary Elvis. That's a lot of potential awesomeness going into this tale of an accidental theft of a million dollars' worth of cocaine, and True Romance delivers beautifully. Why isn't this as universally known and beloved as Pulp Fiction? The world may never know, but that's no reason not to see it and judge for yourself.
4) The Last Boy Scout Speaking of Tony Scott, this Scott-directed 1991 Bruce Willis vehicle is yet another underappreciated feather in his cap. The story, about a murder investigation that uncovers a plot to legalize sports gambling, is a little convoluted, but that doesn't hinder the fun in the least. Willis is a washed-up former Secret Service agent turned PI. Damon Wayans is a washed-up former pro quarterback whose girlfriend (a then-unknown Halle Barry!) is killed. Together they investigate her murder, take down a corrupt senator and football team owner, and blow up a tremendous amount of shit along the way, which inspires (spoiler alert!) Bruce Willis to do a jig at the end. Also, a guy gets dropped through helicopter blades, so it's got that going for it.
3) The Long Kiss Goodnight Renny Harlin's career is full of over-the-top action epics devoid of subtlety or nuance -- think Michael Bay, but less incoherent and aggressively stupid. Some would call this a failing, but considering that's now the status quo, it's amazing the man is not hailed as a visionary. Take The Long Kiss Goodnight, a 1995 movie about a secret agent who washes up on a beach with total amnesia, then slowly recovers her identity as she kills her way through an unceasing army of bad guys. Sounds like The Bourne Identity, no? This came out about seven years earlier, but gave us Geena Davis as the amnesiac spy-turned-soccer-mom and threw in Samuel L. Jackson as a bonus. It's a tremendously entertaining, brain-dead action flick that's a lot more fun and a lot less sterile than Bourne, but no less shooty. Plus, it's about a CIA false-flag operation to secure funding by framing Islamic terrorists for an attack, so 9/11 truthers should fucking love it.
2) Romeo Is Bleeding It's no shock that Romeo Is Bleeding wasn't a huge hit. It's a dark, twisted tale of police corruption, weird sex and brutal violence that stars Gary Oldman as a dirty cop in the service of the mob. Everything's going great for Oldman's character until he runs up against a Russian assassin who seduces him, kicks the shit out of him and turns him against his mob bosses before she frames him for multiple murders. Devoid of heroes -- hell, devoid of any character you really want to root for -- but full of brilliant set pieces and tense scenes, Romeo Is Bleeding is an overlooked slice of '90s neo noir that deserved a better fate than being resigned to scarring teenagers who rented it by mistake while looking for Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet adaptation.
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1) Ronin Ronin is another film with a stellar cast and crew that somehow seems to have slipped through the cracks. It's not precisely an obscure film so much as one that people seem to forget exists. How do you forget a film that throws Robert DeNiro, Stellan Skarsgård, Jean Reno and Sean Bean together as co-conspirators, then sets them to double-crossing each other while tearing ass around Paris in epic car-chase set pieces and shootouts? Especially when it's directed by John Frankenheimer and written by David Mamet! This should be fondly remembered as one of the greatest action movies of not only the '90s, but pretty much any decade -- but most people remember it, if at all, for the car chases. Admittedly, the car chases are fucking sweet, but still, this tale of a much-sought after briefcase and the people who will stop at nothing to get it deserves better than that.