Review: Holy Rollers shows formulaic rise, fall

Review: Holy Rollers shows formulaic rise, fall

Source: AssociatedPress

By: Christy Lemire

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Friday 21 May 2010

Movie Title

Review: Holy Rollers shows formulaic rise, fall


Kevin Asch

Star Cast

Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Jason Fuchs, Danny Abeckaser, Mark Ivanir

Holy Rollers depicts a world the majority of us have never visited ? the insular existence of Brooklyn's Hasidic Jews ? only to wind up following the same rise-and-fall formula we've seen countless times before.

But the film does allow Jesse Eisenberg to put a new spin on the brainy-but-sweetly-awkward shtick he's perfected in movies like The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland. Here, it feels like he's really acting ? and he's really a grown-up ? for the first time.

Inspired by the true story of Orthodox Jews who functioned as drug mules in the late 1990s, smuggling a million Ecstasy pills into the United States from Europe, this first feature from director Kevin Asch offers some strong performances and a vivid sense of place with its synagogues and modest homes. And the first time Eisenberg's character, Sam Gold, meets the young woman he's been arranged to marry, it'll make you laugh and squirm simultaneously. Everyone's had a disastrous first date; few are as excruciating as this one.

But this is the quiet, respectable life that's been determined for him: a wife from a decent family, kids (she wants eight) and a career as a rabbi. Soon, though, she finds a match from a family of higher social status, and Sam finds himself intrigued by the brash flashiness of his next-door neighbor, Yosef Zimmerman (Justin Bartha, the bachelor from The Hangover). We know Yosef is cool ? and probably trouble ? because he smokes and drops a lot of F-bombs. Not exactly proper Orthodox behavior.

You can see his self-destruction coming from a mile away ? long before he gets in over his head with an Israeli drug cartel ? in the script from Antonio Macia. And yet Yosef is charismatic and undeniably magnetic, for Sam and for us, so it's hard not to get dragged along for this wild ride. At the same time, Yosef conducts his life in a way that deviates so vastly from convention that we have to wonder, was he ever observant? Did something happen that prompted him to break from tradition? We never find out.

Yosef lures his scholarly younger brother, Leon (Jason Fuchs), and Sam into his world by telling them they can make a few extra bucks importing "medicine" from Amsterdam ? the logic being, no one would ever suspect them coming through Customs looking the way they do. It doesn't take long for them to figure out what this stuff actually is, and while Leon balks, Sam doesn't seem to mind, and the excitement of being around Rachel (Ari Graynor, the party-girl pal from Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist) is an added enticement. She's the girlfriend of suave Israeli drug dealer Jackie Solomon (Danny Abeckaser), whom they all work for, but she's awfully flirty.

There is a bit of a vicarious thrill watching Sam lose his inhibitions and enjoy life as he starts wearing hipper clothes, attending all-night raves and, eventually, sampling the product. Still, we know that despite his rebellion, the stern words of his proud father (Mark Ivanir, dignified and intense) ultimately will win out.

Guess the party has to end sometime. It's just obvious how this one's going to end from the start.

Holy Rollers, a First Independent Pictures release, is rated R for drug content and language throughout, and brief sexual material.

Running time: 89 minutes

Rating: Two stars out of four

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