Starring John Hawkes. Rating unavailable
Too Clever might have been a better title for this tricky exercise in L.A. neonoir, which squishes the ’70s mannerism of Chinatown and The Long Goodbye through a Tarantino meat-grinder for mixed results.
For his graduation to feature films, writer-director Dennis Hauck gave himself some formal restrictions. The film is shot on 35mm stock (and projected that way here), and each of five “chapters” consists of one 22-minute take. Celluloid grain enhances the woozy, Lucky Strike vibe of Too Late, which also leans heavily on analogue oldies for the soundtrack. For maximum movie geekdom, you must enjoy a surfeit of rib-elbowing self-consciousness. This is, after all, a tale in which archetypes talk about their actions in terms of rewinding VHS tape, and the climax happens at a drive-in where ’60s cult classic Carnival of Souls is screening. (Excellent choice, by the way.)
Given the requisite, post–Pulp Fiction time-jumping, the flimsy narrative through-line rests entirely on indie star John Hawkes, who obviously enjoys, in a beaten-down way, playing a shaggy private eye called Sampson. His Delilah is the Oz-nodding Dorothy (Teen Wolf heroine Crystal Reed), a stripper on the run who calls Sampson for help, years after their first encounter.
In stand-alone vignettes that sometimes play like the shorts this young director used to make, we spend time with such veterans as Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey, and Joanna Cassidy, as assorted desperate characters. Among newcomers, the most striking is Nepal-born, Australia-raised Dichen Lachman, as a colleague of Dorothy’s whom Hauck manages to keep bikinied throughout.
It’s hard to determine if the film’s casual sexism is spoof-tastic or what, because there’s no real directorial POV offered, other than obsessive cinemaphilia. Except when pushing for unearned emotions in the last reel, most conversations are either talky expositions or empty-calorie monologues of the Royale-with-cheese persuasion. This thing is mildly tasty, but no one will say it’s organic.