Gimmicky films can be a drag. All flash and no substance, they grab your attention for a few minutes, but then your mind begins to wander once you realize that the filmmaker has no interest in actual human beings (the audience included). Against all odds, first-time feature director Dennis Hauck has made a film that's as gimmicky as hell—shot on 35 mm in five unbroken 20-minute takes—and yet it becomes more involving as it goes along.

He starts by introducing Dorothy (Crystal Reed), a Los Angeles stripper who has "seen something she shouldn't have," presumably a murder, so she calls her private-eye pal, Mel Sampson (John Hawkes in a custom-built role), for assistance, but he arrives too late. The aptly titled Too Late proceeds to unfurl like a postmillennial riff on Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye as Mel tangles with clinically depressed trophy wives (Vail Bloom), brunch-happy drug dealers (Dash Mihok and Rider Strong), and movie-mad park rangers (Brett Jacobsen).

Hauck also shuffles the chronology to show how Mel and Dorothy met. If some of the jokey Tarantino dialogue falls flat, Reed and Hawkes invest the scenario with heart. You want things to work out for them, even though you know they won't. That's no spoiler—it's the way noir works. And Hauck never forgets that, even when his cleverness threatens to—but doesn't quite—run away with him. recommended