Nothing brings movie outsiders into an unknown world like unbridled cultural authenticity. Be it the rich feel of the Italian-American experience via Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” or the harrowing real vibe of life on the streets in South Central Los Angeles in John Singleton’s “Boyz N The Hood,” nothing transports an audience more than a true tone. The problem with the East LA set “Lowriders” is both the Latino and lowrider cultures are never fully developed or given their on-screen due and thus both merely serve as a backdrop to an uninspired story we’ve simply seen before.
Danny is a young man out to prove his artistry to the world. Spray painting walls, murals and even high profile places with his savvy street art is his canvas of choice, but it’s a far cry from the creative work of his father who has spent his life in service of lush lowriders. Plus to top it off Danny’s brother Ghost has come out of jail and has taken Danny under his wing to best their father whom Ghost has come to hate. Ultimately Danny must choose a side, but all the while fight to keep his ailing family together.
The above makes “Lowriders” sound pretty straight forward, but the contrived script (four writers in total according to the IMDB page!) is anything but. And amidst the story that is never sure what it wants to be, there’s virtually no characters that the audience can root for. Gabriel Chavarria’s lead Danny is uber-cocky, Demian Bichir’s too proud pop is the epitome of the dour dad (past abuse, alcohol and deceased wife issues abound – aka Screenwriting cliches 101!) and Theo Rossi’s Ghost is the typical big grinning bad guy. (Even “Boyz N The Hood’s” Ice Cube had a quiet charismatic side!) So any ethnic flavor here is swallowed up in a sea of stereotypes that provide little to no new insight. As far as the lowriders themselves, there are a few savory scenes of building and displaying the iconic automotive works of art (the competition scene is a mecca for the lowrider fan!), as well as character bits that help get you in the fun off it all (the early Pepe Serna speech had me in stitches!), but all are scattered few and far between within a framework that never lets you just sit and enjoy the wonderment of the lowrider movement.
I get that the need for diverse films is more prevalent then ever before and when it comes to flicks with Latino themes even more so. But to merely give praise undeservedly to a less than stellar cinematic piece of work would be to the detriment to those who came before and raised the bar. “Lowriders” should have at the very least taught the uninitiated auto appreciation, but sadly any real lessons get lost in the roar of an engine.
Cast: Demian Bichir, Eva Longoria, Gabriel Chavarria
Director: Ricardo de Montreuil
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Company: Universal Pictures