Watty Watts (Gil Bellows) walks into a gas station convenience store one night with a ski mask over his face and a gun drawn. He accosts the clerk (Wiley Wiggins) at the end of the muzzle and tells him that he wants the cash from the register and the safe, and doesn't take any nonsense from him because if there's one thing Watty knows, it's how to stage a hold up. And it's no good the clerk stalling for the armoured security van to arrive, because the criminal's girlfriend Starlene Cheatham (Renée Zellweger) has waylaid the driver. And further, it's no good pointing that gun he's given the clerk at him, because it's not loaded...
Yes, he has an unusual modus operandi does Watty, which is fair enough when it makes for an intriguing beginning: here's an armed robber who refuses to open fire, and in fact abhors violence - equally surprising is the fact that while his pistol was not loaded, the one he offered the kid was, and he lets him keep it along with a word of advice about his future career path. So he's not your average petty criminal, and it would be nice to say this was not your average crime thriller, but it might have seemed a lot fresher if writer and director C.M. Talkington had released his film before Quentin Tarantino made such a big splash on the movie scene, so much so that every work in this vein post-Tarantino would be compared to his.
Therefore a lot of people made connections between this and True Romance, which featured an all-too-similar couple on the run from violent madmen plot, although Watty here does not fire a shot in anger, and it's Starlene who actually lets fly with the bullets. If there was one thing in Talkington's favour, it was not necessarily the comparisons courted between his and more famous movies, it was more the vivid atmosphere he created through character and location, an authentic-feeling mood of Texas and the people who lived there even if as depicted there were an abundance of borderline homicidal maniacs living in the state. But if you want to make your movie memorable, going over the top was one method of ensuring it stuck in the mind.
Actually, this production has a bonus that few could have predicted to have it last on home video, and that was the casting of the soon to be very famous Renée Zellweger, here essaying the role of playful but loyal minx to Bellows' more sensible hero. The actors appeared to have been taken from Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused in some cases, Zellweger included, so it could have been his foresight rather than Talkington's which noticed star quality in her, but in these days where she's too often dismissed as a squeaky voiced hamster of a woman it's worth looking back at efforts such as this to recognise that there was talent there, or at least a screen presence which was easy to warm to even if it did wear thin with successive appearances.
Actually, it was a strange cast all round of cultish performers and the sort of type which was appropriate to this milieu, with Re-Animator star Jeffrey Combs appearing as a hitman and as restrained as you would expect, Peter Fonda as an ageing hippy parent of Starlene who talks through one of those voicebox devices ("Far out!" he buzzes), and Eraserhead himself Jack Nance as a Justice of the Peace who marries the couple at gunpoint. When Starlene rhapsodises that she and Watty are now just like Bonnie and Clyde in the movies, he nervously points out that characters such as those routinely get killed at the end of their stories, raising the possibility that with all those dangerous folks after them the same could be true here, an interesting note of self-awareness. Really this is a film which burbles along energetically, revelling in its none too original trappings and coasting on its cast's vitality, no classic, but you wouldn't resent time spent with it. The soundtrack was a rare one by Tom Verlaine of Television.