In honor of Killing Them Softly, we revisit forgotten Tarantino knockoffs from the mid-’90s.
Fans of Andrew Dominik’s neo-Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford should brace for a departure. The New Zealand–born director’s Killing Them Softly evokes a different brand of genre fare: the dialogue-heavy, flippantly sadistic crime sagas that flourished in the mid-’90s—all aping an edgy trendsetter named Quentin Tarantino. With Softly hitting theaters, and Tarantino’s Django Unchained coming next month, we dredge up a few of the era’s most plagiaristic QT clones.
Love and a .45 (1994)
The imperfect crime After a convenience-store robbery gone horribly awry, a Texas stickup man (Gil Bellows) goes on the lam with his trailer-trash sweetheart (Renée Zellweger).
Quintessentially Quentin A pair of quippy sociopaths dance around a seated victim, torturing him with a tattoo pen while the super sounds of the ’70s blare on the radio.
Sample Q-talk “Well, if it ain’t my two favorite homicidal maniacs.”
How it holds up One of the earliest Tarantino wanna-bes, this grungy road movie swipes shamelessly from Reservoir Dogs (a Mexican standoff, a gut-shot gunman writhing in the back of a car). Throw in shades of the QT-penned True Romance and Natural Born Killers, and the main impression is that writer-director C.M. Talkington did his homework.
Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995)
The imperfect crime A paraplegic kingpin (Christopher Walken) hires an in-debt hoodlum (Andy Garcia) to rough someone up. When the job gets botched, Garcia and his men find themselves marked for execution.
Quintessentially Quentin The crew discusses its misguided plan at a greasy spoon.
Sample Q-talk “I am Godzilla! You are Japan!”
How it holds up You’d think Walken, Steve Buscemi and Christopher Lloyd would offer a few laughs. Yet like its doomed heroes, waiting to get whacked, the movie just sits there.
Albino Alligator (1996)
The imperfect crime Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise and William Fichtner hole up in a dive bar after—what else?—a failed robbery. A hostage situation commences when the police show up.
Quintessentially Quentin Fichtner interrogates a French-Canadian barfly (Viggo Mortensen), breaking his fingers while an injured Sinise watches.
Sample Q-talk “If you don’t bite, then don’t bark, doggy dog.”
How it holds up Kevin Spacey’s self-serious directorial debut operates like a black-box morality play. The acting is better than the dreary material.
2 Days in the Valley (1996)
The imperfect crime An L.A. murder plot spirals in multiple directions, following the interwoven exploits of a canine-averse fall guy (Danny Aiello), a kindhearted cop (Eric Stoltz) and a dozen other neurotic urbanites.
Quintessentially Quentin James Spader’s assassin plants a bomb in a car, allowing writer-director John Herzfeld to filch one of Tarantino’s signatures: a shot from inside a trunk.
Sample Q-talk “I’m gonna ask you three questions. If you lie, you die.”
How it holds up Equal parts Pulp Fiction and Short Cuts, this not-half-bad ensemble comedy benefits from above-average performers, including an underused, convincingly bilious Jeff Daniels.
Suicide Kings (1997)
The imperfect crime Four obnoxious rich boys tie up a reformed mob boss (Walken, again), hoping to use his influence to secure the return of a kidnapped friend.
Quintessentially Quentin Denis Leary plays a short-tempered hit man obsessed with his expensive “fish boots.”
Sample Q-talk “Anybody wants to hold hands with my dick, I insist they buy me a drink first.”
How it holds up Not even Walken, summoning a tempest of polite menace, can save this smarmy addition to the designer-imposter canon.
Killing Me Softly opens Friday 30.