And so, David Ayer continues to have a baffling filmography…
“The Tax Collector” is the latest film from writer-director David Ayer, and marks a return to his gritty roots after big-budget studio blockbusters like “Bright” and “Suicide Squad.” The film follows two enforcers for a drug lord (Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf) as they find themselves on the wrong end of a rivalry; Cinthya Carmona and George Lopez also star.
I have a hot and cold relationship with David Ayer as a filmmaker. I really enjoy “Street Kings,” “Fury,” and “End of Watch” (and even “Sabotage” has some fun action), however “Suicide Squad” and “Bright” are both pretty ugly-looking messes. He seems to be at this best when his stories focus more police and gangs in South Central Los Angeles (he also wrote “Training Day” and the first “The Fast and the Furious” film), which makes it all-the-more baffling that “The Tax Collector” is his most bland film to-date.
I really like Shia LaBeouf as an actor, always have dating back to growing up with him on “Even Stevens” and “Holes,” and have enjoyed his more adult work in Ayer’s “Fury” and last year’s semi-biopic “Honey Boy.” Here LaBeouf (who, for the uninitiated, is white) is playing a (seemingly) Hispanic gang member and his performance is… I really don’t even know how to describe it. Like much of the film he kind of just exists, sometimes awkwardly doing a Mexican accent (and sometimes speaking normal), and plays the no-nonsense tough guy enforcer card. He and George Lopez are the only recognizable names on the poster (although Ayer staples like Cle Sloan and Noel Gugliemi pop up), so much of the lifting is done by relative newcomers like Bobby Soto (who, to his credit, is fine enough).
Ayer has been vocal about wanting to give Hispanics more presence in Hollywood with this film, and in the past has been accused of portraying minorities in a bad light. I’m not sure this film about gangs will help change that perception of him around town, but he deserves the credit for giving no-names a chance to star.
Ayer’s films, even the bad ones like “Bright” or “Sabotage,” at least have decent action sequences, which makes me shocked that this film is seemingly devoid of much action. For the first 45 minutes of this 90 minute film, it is just LaBeouf and Soto driving around Los Angeles intimidating people into paying their dues. The film has some very poor and confusing editing choices as well, and I’m not sure if it was Ayer trying to be artsy or editor Geoffrey O’Brien (who cut together “Bright” and assisted on several other Ayer films) was just feeling frisky and random when he sat down at his laptop.
“The Tax Collector” is set to be a VOD release, and even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic it still never feels like it is anything more than your typical Bruce Willis/Nic Cage Walmart bargain bin thriller. There are so many more films out right now, new and old, that depict gang life in Los Angeles (just scroll Ayer’s filmography or open Netflix), and this one should be so far down the list that even the IRS wouldn’t bother to check it.
Critics Rating: 3/10