HOLY ROLLERS (director: Kevin Asch; screenwriter: Antonio Macia; cinematographer: Ben Kutchins; editor: Suzanne Spangler; music: MJ Mynarski; cast: Jesse Eisenberg (Sam Gold), Justin Bartha (Yosef), Ari Graynor (Rachel), Danny A. Abeckaser (Jackie Solomon), Mark Ivanir (Mendel Gold), Hallie Eisenberg (Ruth Gold), Elizabeth Marvel (Elka Gold), Jason Fuchs (Leon), Q-Tip (Ephraim), Bern Cohen (Rebbe Horowitz), Stella Keitel (Zeldy Lazar); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Danny A. Abeckaser/Tory Tunnell/Per Melita/Jen Gatien; First Independent Pictures; 2010-in English/Hebrew/Yiddish)
“Offering the viewer hardly any reason to feel this story is credible.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Inspired by actual events of an Israeli drug dealer in the late 1990s who recruited Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn as mules to smuggle Ecstasy pills from Europe into the United States, in an operation that was short-lived because of an airport bust within-in a year. First-time director Kevin Asch gets the first half of the film right in setting the proper religious atmosphere for the subculture community, but in the second half fails to get the promised drama out of it as it listlessly drifts into an unpleasant morality play about drugs breaking up a family and looks too much like your run-of-the mill drug exploitation film to deserve any honors.
Asch and writer Antonio Macia intelligently focus on religious life in an insular 1998 middle-class Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn and follow the travails of a pious Hasidic family through their troubled son. The restless, naive and bright 20-year-old Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg), the son of the honest Mendel (Mark Ivanir), who owns a fabric-store on the Lower-East-Side’s Delancey St., where Sam works part-time when not studying to be a rabbi with Rebbe Horowitz (Bern Cohen). One of the sources of the kid’s discontent is that his family doesn’t make enough money and won’t let him use his business savvy to make more profitable deals, the other is that he doesn’t want to be a rabbi. The unsophisticated Sam has conflicts with dad about values and his future, and is doing poorly in school. The kid’s best friend, a fellow aspiring rabbi Hasidic, Leon (Jason Fuchs), outshines him in scholarship. Leon’s older brother Yosef (Justin Bartha) is an obnoxious cynical wise-guy who is making lots of fast money working as the right-hand man for Jewish smuggling ring leader Jackie Solomon (Danny A. Abeckaser). Yosef tricks both Leon and Sam into smuggling drugs into NY from Amsterdam by having the Hasidic dressed kids hide the merchandise in their religious garments and telling them it’s medicine. When Leon discovers how he was used he’s ashamed and vows to never do it again, while Sam joins the organization and makes friends with Jackie’s temptress hottie girl friend Rachel (Ari Graynor).
Sam’s parents arrange a marriage for him withZeldy Lazar (Stella Keitel), the attractive daughter of a businessman. But her parents don’t approve of him and she rejects him in favor of his friend Leon. When they marry, Sam is devastated. Soon Sam’s rebbe hears about his shady activities, and he’s ostracized by the Jewish community and his family kicks him out. By this time Sam is a star in the smuggling operation because of his business acumen and he frequents the sordid druggie red-light night clubs of Amsterdam. But his downfall is quick and dull, and even if Eisenberg is perfect for the part his acting is too lackluster to register much of a charge, thanks to the lame script, to make the pic attractive as sleaze. It results in a pic that looks different but turns out the way most of these mainstream coming-of-age crime dramas turn out.
REVIEWED ON 2/5/2013 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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