‘Too Late’ Looks Great but is Just Another Tarantino Knock-Off

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This is a repost of an October 8th review of Too Late from Beyond Fest.

Some filmmakers wear their influences on their sleeves, letting us know exactly who influenced the work before your eyes. Quentin Tarantino is one of those types of filmmakers, filling his films with homages to some of his favorite filmmakers like Brian De Palma and Sergio Leone. In the decades since redefining modern cinema with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has morphed into the one being imitated by other filmmakers. The era of the Tarantino knock-off reached its apex in the late ‘90s and has been slowly fading away, that is until Too Late recently graced the screen. The writing-directing debut of Dennis Hauck never hides its reverence from Tarantino’s work, from its non-linear storyline, rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack, and lengthy scenes of dialogue laden with pop culture references. None of this would be a problem if Too Late actually worked as a whole movie, but it doesn’t as the film places all of its stock in a late reveal that doesn’t make up for the middling segments that preceded it.

Too Late unfolds in a series of five segments, with the exception of the final segment, each taken up in a single shot. It’s an audacious filmmaking decision, but Hauck’s attempts to play with cinematic form hurts the story before us. That story is focused on Mel Sampson (John Hawkes), a private eye, and his attempt to help Dorothy (Crystal Reed), a stripper he befriended years ago. When he answers her call for help, however, he finds he’s arrived too late as she’s been murdered by the cinema-loving psychopath Skippy (Brett Jacobsen). Through other segments, Sampson’s quest for revenge and his larger connection to Dorothy are fleshed out. On their own each of these segments seem to drag out longer than they should as people exchange dialogue that isn’t as witty as the director thinks. As I said before, Hauck makes the entire film hang on the final segment, which doesn’t land its punch as hard as intended and leaves one wondering why they had to sit through this story told in the manner that it was. Even if told in a linear fashion, this film still wouldn’t work.

The movie will be constantly compared to Tarantino’s work because of how Hauck never tries to hide who he’s paying homage to. The opening titles are presented in the same exact font as Kill Bill Vol. 1. The soundtrack features songs by musicians previously employed by Tarantino – T-Rex and Joe Tex. And the cast is littered with people from previous Tarantino movies, or movies that the director was tangentially involved in – John Hawkes from From Dusk ‘til Dawn, Robert Forester from Jackie Brown, Jeff Fahey from Grindhouse, and Sydney Tamiia Poitier from Death Proof. When these characters are aping hard-boiled dialogue, they’re talking about pop culture and movies; one character (played by Dichen Lachman) owns and operates a drive-in theater playing double features on 35mm. That along with shout-outs to local L.A. repertory theaters including the Tarantino-owned New Beverly Cinema.

Too Late is shot on 35mm and the screening I attended was a 35mm print, which had all the grainy filmic qualities that would fit the story had it been a bit better in its construction. The opening continuous shot briefly employs a bit of split screen, though Hauck quickly dispatches with that element much to the detriment of the overall film. Each of the five segments are in need of editing and forgoing that cinematic tool in favor of something showy but hollow ruins the film’s pacing. You just sit there wishing the film’s dialogue and story were half as good as its 35mm look.

As to be expected, John Hawkes doesn’t disappoint as the broken private eye. Time and time again, the actor proves himself to be among one of the more captivating actors working today, and it’s great to see him in a leading role. The rest of the cast doesn’t operate on the same level as Hawkes, some of whom are downright awful. But the script doesn’t do any of the film’s actors, good or bad, any favors with the wordy Tarantino-Lite dialogue. It only serves as a testament that there’s just one Tarantino for a reason, not anybody can pull this off.

The things that work in Too Late are greatly outweighed by the numerous elements that don’t. The audacity that Hauck brings to his visuals he doesn’t have in the writing, and that visual audacity undermines a story very much in need of editing. I sincerely hope to see more from Hauck as a director and not so much as a writer. For his directorial debut, he really tried to do something special and just missed. He’s still a young talented filmmaker capable of making something special, and it’s not too late for him to have a great career. But Too Late isn’t that blistering start he imagined. Instead it’s a film that places its filmmaker in the shadow of a legend, muddling his own voice with a second-rate impersonation.

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