I really enjoy David Ayer’s work. His screenplays can occasionally bring about intense and powerful portrayals of cops and street criminals.
When he hits, he hits hard such as with his screenplay for Ron Shelton’s excellent crooked cop drama “Dark Blue” starring Kurt Russell, and his sensational police drama “End of Watch” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.
I even found Ayer’s 2014 Arnold Schwarzenegger action thriller “Sabotage” to be very entertaining.
But when David Ayer misses the bulls eye, he misses the target completely, such as his dull interpretation of James Ellroy’s screenplay for 2008’s “Street Kings,” his laughably macho WWII tank film “Fury,” and the travesty that was 2016’s “Suicide Squad.”
I am also one of the few viewers who did not bow at the altar of Ayer’s “Training Day,” even though it is a decent enough film.
With his new release “The Tax Collector,” David Ayer racks up another film that falls in the miss column. This film fails completely on every level.
Bobby Soto (apparently proving that he cannot carry a film) stars as David, a tax collector who is the one who has to collect all of the street gang kickbacks and take them to his uncle and mafia don, played by George Lopez.
David’s loyal friend and dangerous street enforcer Creeper is with him at every turn. Creeper is the muscle and has a reputation for being more than dangerous. About him someone declares, “I heard you are The Devil.”
In the absolutely worst case of miscasting in any film of the year, so far, Shia Labeouf plays Creeper.
LaBeouf is less than intimidating with his lean frame and tight-fitting suits. Standing in the mirror, trying to look hard, he appears like a high-schooler imitating something he saw in a film.
I find Shia LaBeouf to be a very good young actor but in this film, he is all wrong.
David goes on his daily pickups and things go from bad to worse as he comes up twenty thousand dollars shy and offers no explanation of where the money went or who shorted him.
There is also an enemy from his uncle’s younger days, Conejo (a one-note Jose Conejo Martin) who has returned to take over with force.
Throw in some lazy moralizing, add voodoo, and you have a strange crime drama that is much too messy and unfocused to come from a seasoned filmmaker on your hands.
The film’s setup is nothing new but could have been interesting. It is from the screenplay that most problems are generated.
Ayer checks the cliché box as he lays out his film. Before David goes out for his day, we see him as a family man, sitting at the breakfast table with his wife, mother and sister-in-law, and their children. The family says grace, they are bathed in a golden hue.
I have no problem with films that make criminals human, but the presentation was much too obvious, here.
While it is difficult to sidestep clichés when making a film about L.A.’s drug gangs, everyone in this film tries too hard to make it the next “Scarface.” There are endless scenes of hard looks, tough talk, and macho posturing, even though everything falls flat.
By now, it is extremely clear that David Ayer has a type of film he enjoys exploring and he does it time and time again. With this film, it feels as if he wrote and directed it out of spite.
This film, this “Tax Collector, it’s just badly written and directed. There is no cohesive flow to the structure, Geoffrey O’Brian’s editing is sloppy and causes an already unfocused film to become even more ill-defined.
Cinematographer Salvatore Totino does good work capturing the harsh sun of the L.A.’s streets and the yellow street lights of city nights. Torino’s camerawork being the only positive here.
The structure of this film mirrors Ayer’s 2005 crime thriller “Harsh Times” starring Christian Bale but what worked so well in that film eludes the director, here. That film told the story of two men walking through a world of violence. One is trying to leave it while one thrives in it. Same thing here, only, this film appears like a pale imitation of the superior “Harsh Times.” The urgency that drove that earlier film is nothing but a repetitive bore in Ayer’s latest.
Comparing Ayer’s film to his others is justified here. It’s as if he dusted off an old script from before he had honed his craft and shot it without checking to see if it needed polishing.
With a script that’s got bullets flying and guns a-blazing, this one is one dreadfully colorless movie.
While cloaking itself as a crime film with a humanistic tilt David Ayer’s “The Tax Collector,” drunk on cliches, is an ugly, messy and cinematic atrocity of macho posturing and tired stereotypes.