No one will ever say that Shia LaBeouf isn’t committed to his art. He left behind a big-time career in blockbuster movies to concentrate on making smaller, more interesting films. For his latest role, a sociopath who says things like, “Do I have to kill anyone today? I have my nice shoes on,” he got a giant torso tattoo to help him find the character’s authenticity. That’s commitment. It’s a shame “The Tax Collector,” now on VOD, doesn’t make good use of LaBeouf or the tat.
Set in South Los Angeles, the movie follows David (Bobby Soto) and sidekick Creeper (LaBeouf), violent men who collect payments, or “taxes,” from 43 different street gangs for Wizard, an enigmatic crime boss currently residing as a guest of the state. They are feared and respected in equal measure but when Wizard’s old rival Conejo (Jose Martin) shows up after a ten-year absence, life on the street changes. Conejo and his deadly girlfriend (Cheyenne Rae Hernandez)—“She’s like the female you,” David says to Creeper.—plan on taking over, edging Wizard out. David can either sign on or face the grim repercussions for his loyalty to the old regime. When he refuses to kiss the ring and join the new family things get bloody. “Everything you love is going to die real fast.”
“The Tax Collector” is rich with details of gang life and atmosphere. Unfortunately, it’s also ripe with hackneyed depictions of the same. Director and screenwriter David “Training Day” Ayer replays themes of love, honor, loyalty and family that have been played to death (literally) in almost every gangster film ever made. It’s stylishly made but no amount of tricky camera angles will erase that sense of déjà vu.
It’s propped up somewhat by solid performances from Soto and LaBeouf, who, contrary to internet chatter is not playing a Hispanic character. Soto, as the family man with a dark side, shares good chemistry with LaBeouf in their chattier moments. Ayer perfected the riding-around-in-cars dialogue schtick in “Training Day” and uses they make the most of it here.
The movie’s biggest surprise is the casting of comedian George Lopez as David’s Uncle Louis, a garage mechanic with a violent past. He’s gutsy and gritty and in his limited time on screen makes an impression as opposed to Martin who plays Conejo with all the finesse of a pantomime villain.
“The Tax Collector” is a violent, gore soaked portrait of gang life with nothing new to say.