Monday, April 4, 2011

Holy Rollers

Directed by Kevin Asch.
2010. Rated R, 89 minutes.
Jesse Eisenberg
Justin Bartha
Danny A. Abeckaser
Ari Gaynor
Jason Fuchs
Mark Ivanir
Elizabeth Marvel
Bern Cohen
Hallie Kate Eisenberg

At twenty, Sam’s (Jesse Eisenberg) life appears to be already mapped out for him. He lives with his parents and leads a fairly strict Hasidic lifestyle. He is studying to become a rabbi and it has been arranged for him to marry a very pretty girl. He also works at the dry-cleaners his father owns. That business puts food on the table, but affords the family no luxuries. Even the necessities are worn and ragged. Particularly problematic is the ancient stove. Turning it on requires a pair of pliers and just the right touch.

Sam dreams of bettering his family’s circumstances. If nothing else, he wants to buy his mom a new stove. This is where Yosef (Bartha) comes in. Yosef lives next door and is the older brother of Sam’s best friend. He is also a drug-runner. He works for Jackie (Abeckaser), an Istraeli born Ecstasy dealer. To help the operation, Yosef dupes straight-laced Hasidics into thinking they’re transporting medicine from Amsterdam into the U.S. for the wealthy. Yosef not only recruits Sam for such a trip, Jackie likes Sam so much he quickly becomes an integral part of this small outfit. He’s also sucked into the fast paced lifestyle and becomes an outcast amongst his friends and family.

This is based on a true story. It is interesting and efficiently told. Aside from the fact we’re dealing with Hasidic Jews, there’s not much that’s unique about Holy Rollers. It also lacks the storytelling acumen of movies it’s so clearly influenced by like Scarface and Blow. Though their tales were familiar, even when we first saw them, their sweeping narratives stick with us. Though HR takes its cues from those others, it never really strives to be the type of epic they are. Instead, it moves rapidly through its story, sure not to overstay its welcome.

However, I did say it is efficient. Despite clocking in at a hair shy of 90 minutes, it hits all the spots it has to in order to keep us vested in what happens to Sam. Everything needed to give us a solid crime drama is present. It’s just that not much of it is explored enough to make HR stand out. Part of the problem is that Sam isn’t a dynamic enough personality. Yes, we see that he has dreams and aspirations and the things he’s willing to do to achieve them. Still, he’s little more than a reflection of whoever he happens to be around at the time. Perhaps most troubling, we see how his religion reacts to his indiscretions, but never really find out if there is a real struggle within him. We don’t know if he’s having knee-jerk reactions or really turning his back on his faith. It’s an aspect that could’ve helped the movie by allowing us to participate a little more.

Regardless of its issues, HR is a solid watch. The acting is top notch. In spite of what it leaves out, it never feels like it is rushing through what it has. It makes its way from beginning to end in a manner worthy of your perusal. It just doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

MY SCORE: 6/10

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