There have been dozens of movies that take a hard look on the darker side of Los Angeles, usually urban dramas or noir mysteries. Too Late could be considered modern noir, but it’s actually a puzzle that’s deliberately out of order.
At first glance, it could be the story of a private eye named Mel Sampson (John Hawkes) looking into the death of a young dancer/stripper. What’s different is that the story is told in 35mm in five 22-minute shots, done out of order. Writer-director Dennis Hauck borrows a few time bending tricks from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Hateful 8, and he does this because the movie is more than finding a killer, showing how the detective is also a victim. Some people may be put off because the movie borrows a lot from Pulp Fiction, but it’s an interesting try. Here’s a look at the trailer…
The first section shows Dorothy (Crystal Reed) who decides to call Mel for the first time in three years. She claims she may need his help because she may have seen something she shouldn’t have seen. She meets a couple of drug dealers, then a “forest ranger” named Fontaine (Brett Jacobson) who winds up killing her. Mel arrives too late to save her.
Then, the movie changes to the home of a strip club owner (Robert Forster) with his wife (Vail Bloom), who spends much of the scene without pants. There’s a confrontation that ends badly for everyone.
The third section is set in a strip club where we see a dancer perform with the least amount of enthusiasm she can because hardly anyone is there. The dancer is played by Dichen Lachman from Dollhouse and Agents of SHIELD. Sampson is there, and she tries to dis the other dancers. Dorothy is there, which means this is a long flashback. It looks like it’s just an average night for Mel, visiting a joint and later a nightclub to see an old friend. It’s a nice life for him
Then for some reason we see Jilly still in her bikini working at a drive-in AND being a ring girl from what could barely be called a boxing match. She also a few other things no one should do in a bikini. That may puzzle a lot of people because no one may even picture a drive-in still in business near Los Angeles. Sampson is there and it turns out they know each other very well. She wonders about why he was recently shot in the chest and is downplaying it. Their scenes are probably the best in the whole movie, even though the location is bizarre. Soon though, we find out why Sampson is there: he’s found Fontaine and plans to avenge Dorothy, although it’s unclear why.
The final scene reveals the true connection Sampson has with the girl, and that Dorothy’s grandmother (Joanna Cassidy) is more worried about her than Dorothy’s mom is. It’s also revealed how he got his chest wound.
If the five sections were re-arranged in the proper order, the movie would have been an average mystery about a father who never tells a girl who he really is, but is determined to avenge her. However, it looks like Hauck is more interested in seeing how Sampson has been hurt because he was literally too late to resolve something from his past. Stealing from Pulp Fiction to do this is something lots of directors and writers do.
Hawkes dominates the movie, with fine performances from Forster, Bloom, and Natalie Zea as Dorothy’s mother.