There are people who want to be original and there are people who are original. Everyone thinks they walk to the beat of their own drum. But the reality is only a very select few are truly original. Those are the ones who create their own style and rhythm.
No place is this more readily apparent than in film. Hollywood is a business built on unoriginality. Its bread and butter is sequels and remakes. Every once in awhile, we get a director that becomes their own commodity. Certain directors have cultivated such a distinct style their name alone is shorthand for a particular technique.
Lynch, Hitchcock, Burton, (Wes) Anderson, Kaufman, and Lubitsch all have such distinct visual styles. Unique ways of storytelling that have inspired a genre of rip offs and homages. However, I’d argue that no director has generated as many copy cat clones than Quentin Tarantino.
For the better part of fifteen years, you couldn’t avoid films involving cool criminals spouting pop culture laden monologues. There were more hyperlinked films with nonlinear structures than you could shake a stick at. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction ushered in a new wave of cool. But the thieves only raided the sweets section of the buffet. They didn’t take any of the meat.
Films like *big breath* Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, 2 Days in The Valley, Suicide Kings, Reindeer Games, Love and a .45, Killing Zoe, Mad Dog Time, Albino Alligator, Truth or Consequences, Destiny Turns on the Radio, and The Boondock Saints (stop loving this movie, it’s terrible) are all style with zero substance. Cinematic bingo sheets if you will. They just took Tarantino hallmarks in place of letters and numbers. But barely any of them have more than just the free space blotted.
Tarantino himself realized that borrowing isn’t enough. You have to re-contextualize your influences. Build upon what you love, instead of pointing the camera at references that serve no purpose to the narrative. Some of the clones like The Way of the Gun, Go, and Snatch understood that. Yet, for the most part, they’re all dollar store chocolate Easter bunnies—hollow and unappealing.
Which brings us to Lowlife.
Imagine the show Clone High but, instead of a school made up of the clones of historical figures, it’s a class consisting of nothing but Tarantino rip offs with Lowlife sitting in the middle of all of them peeking at their papers. It obviously owes its entire existence to Tarantino and although it’s occasionally fun, it nevertheless feels a good ten years too late.
The story is, as most of them are, divided up into three parts. Characters flowing in and out of all of them until they all converge in the third act. There’s a gangster that kidnaps illegals and sells their organs on the black market; a pregnant hotel clerk who’s made a grave mistake; an Eminem lookalike with a swastika face tattoo; and an overly violent luchador who suffers from rage induced blackouts. They’re all interesting for the most part and although you can pretty much guess where the film is going to end up by the halfway point, it still has enough to keep you engaged.
But I feel as though the Pulp Fiction-esque structure was ultimately a mistake. It sidelines the luchador for long stretches of time and he’s by far the most entertaining aspect of the film. His blackouts are a clever way to progress the narrative. They keep the character (and by extension the audience) in the literal dark. There’s a high pitched scream, the screen goes black. When he wakes up, he’s in the middle of a violent murder and/or chaos. It’s a clever storytelling device which unfortunately nothing else in the film comes close to. Outside of the luchador, everything is either cliche or was done better years ago.
Lowlife has some truly terrible choices, but it gets a pass for trying.