Pulp Fiction hit American pop culture like an A-bomb in 1994, and for about five years afterward just about every young director working wanted to be Quentin Tarantino. If you were going to indie movies with any regularity during this period, you saw a whole lot of crime thrillers about morally ambiguous but crazy-cool hoods who talked and talked and talked about music and movies and chicks when they weren't busy blowing holes in people (and sometimes even when they were). You know: Things to Do When You've Been Dead for 2 Days in the Valley and all of that stuff. Most of these movies were derivative junk, and that's hardly surprising. When you set out to slavishly imitate somebody else—especially a talent as flawed but distinctive as Tarantino's—you're lucky if the results will be watchable, let alone any good.
Within the first 30 seconds of Ten 'Til Noon, you know this is a movie that never would've happened without Pulp Fiction. As the film opens, it is 11:50 a.m., and a seemingly average guy is awakened in his bedroom by two people he's never seen before—a chatty killer very much in the Samuel L. Jackson mold, and the chatty killer's assistant, an imperious brunette who just stands there being sexily terrifying. It's all so Tarantino it hurts, but as the killer does his Jules Winnfield bit and his victim cowers under the covers, desperately trying to talk his way out of the situation, you realize something: this isn't just the usual Tarantino wannabe blah. Son of a bitch, this could actually be a Tarantino script. The dialogue has his polish, and his punch. You soon learn that in addition to the Tarantino-esque conversational rhythms, the film is also employing a Tarantino-esque, recursive storytelling gimmick: every 10 minutes we jump back in time to 11:50 a.m. to see this unfolding horror show from another character's POV, so that the bad guy in one story becomes the good guy in the next, and vice versa. And, against all the odds, this gimmick is actually working. What the hell is going on here?
Sometimes a well-known artist gets tired of being told that everything he does is great, and for a lark he'll put out some new work under a pseudonym, just to see how people respond to it without all the expectations and without a big name to help it sell. Is Ten 'Til Noon screenwriter Paul Osborne actually just a front for Tarantino? I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but it sure wouldn't surprise me to learn that Tarantino was secretly behind this thing. If anything, Osborne is a little more consistent than Tarantino, which cuts both ways: he never achieves the instant quotability of Pulp Fiction's "Royale with cheese" scene, for instance, but on the other hand he never subjects us to a moment of baffling wrongness like that Pulp Fiction bit where Uma tells Travolta he's being a square and then draws a literal cartoon square in the air like Pebbles Flintstone. (Seriously, Quentin: What the hell?)
If, purely for the sake of argument, we go ahead and assume that Paul Osborne is Tarantino—and hell, just for kicks, let's assume that director Scott Storm is Quentin too—then I don't think anybody is going to dispute that Ten 'Til Noon is a proud addition to his filmography. I'd even argue that this is his best movie since Pulp Fiction. Sure, the film suffers a bit from its obviously meager budget—the performances are strikingly uneven, which I suppose is inevitable when you can't afford Sam Jackson and you have to make do with Morgan Freeman's son—and that jazzy soundtrack is sometimes jaw-clenchingly irritating. But still, Ten 'Til Noon is a lot tighter and more fun than Jackie Brown, and infinitely less self-indulgent than the Kill Bill trilogy. (Wait, was that only two movies? I guess it just seemed like three.) It feels like Tarantino is having fun again, like he's relaxed and is in control of his material, and that working without all the burdens of his fame has really freed him up. Plus, his new movie has boobs. Lots and lots of bare, jiggly boobs. It gets a little distracting after a while, but it helps take your mind off that damn soundtrack.
This, finally, is the Tarantino follow-up picture we've been waiting for since 1995. It just took two guys who aren't Quentin Tarantino to bring it to us. That's assuming that Paul Osborne and Scott Storm aren't Tarantino. Because they're not. Right?
TEN 'TIL NOON SCREENS AT EDWARDS ISLAND, NEWPORT BEACH. TUES., APRIL 25, 6:30 P.M.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.