Film Review: “Lowriders” Takes it Low and Slow

By Bel Hernandez

Opening this Friday, May 12th is a film that is hoping to capitalize on the number one film-going audience, Latinos and their love of cars.  In 2015 U.S. Latinos audiences boosted Furious 7 of the Fast and Furious franchise to the tune of $143.6 million on opening weekend, accounting for their largest domestic film audience at 37%.  Distributors Blumhouse and Telemundo Films are hoping this audience will love the “low and slow” style of the cars in their latest film Lowriders, just as much as they like the “fast and the furious”.

Set against East LA’s near-spiritual car culture of “lowriding”, the story follows Danny (Gabriel Chavarria), a talented young street artist caught between the lowrider world inhabited by his old-school father (Demian Bichir) and ex-con brother (Theo Rossi).  While both brothers have long given up on their father ever approving of them, the father has stopped trying to connect with his sons, and rather turns to the adrenaline-fueled outlet that defines his self-expression, lowriding.

The film attempts to shed a light on the tradition of lowriding, which began in Los Angeles, California in the mid-to-late 1940’s by Mexican Americans in the E.L.A neighborhood.  The souped up cars are distinct by the customization a regular lowered vehicle, generally individually painted with intricate, colorful designs, ridden on 13-inch wire-spoke wheels with whitewall tires, and fitted with hydraulic systems that allow the vehicle to be raised or lowered at the owner’s command.  For decades these cars were shown off while cruising a two mile stretch of Whittier Blvd, in E.L.A. up until the late mid 80’ s when the police cracked down on cruising the boulevard and outlawed it.  

Pepe Serna, Noel G., Eva Longoria and Demian Bichir in a winning scene

The film starts off with a Danny, the youngest, a tagger artist narrating his dichotomy of being caught between two world, his life as an artist, and being misunderstood by his old-school dad who is all about the car culture.  And although the narration attempts to convey the allure of lowriding, a narration does not do it justice.  With “lowriders” in the title of the movie, the expectations are high.

Lowriders screenwriters Cheo Hodari Coker and Elgin James seem to have had trouble deciding what story to focus on and unclear who their target audience was, seemingly opting to just throw a little bit of everything in hopes of appealing to both millennials and the hard core lowriding aficionado.  Their attempts fall short, as the film tries to cover too much ground and suffers because of it.  

The culture of lowriding skews more towards the older Hispanic male and female, who have a long history and a deep love for the “art” and “culture” who many have been living for over 20 years.  While, the quick detour to include a hipster side story may not be sufficient to keep the attention of the millennial crowd who might not connect to the main storyline.

However, the attempts to bridge the cultural gap with the side story of the romance between Danny and Lorelei played by Melissa Benoist  (CW’s Supergirl); and the generation gap with the animosity between Danny, and the prodigal son Francisco “Ghost” Alvarez, played to great effect by Theo Rossi, and their dad, produce some of the films more dramatic moments.  And the women might also dig the fact that the mother, played by Eva Longoria, is a strong, caring and savvy car mechanic, not your typical “barrio mother” (as a matter of fact the film did a good job of being in the barrio, yet not ghettoizing the story or characters). Veteran actor Pepe Serna’s (as Pepe) explanation of car preferences by ethnic lines crystallizes the distinction of lowriding and adds one of the lighter moment to the film.

Chavarria, makes a nice showing in his first film lead.  Rossi is a magnetic presence in one of the film’s more fleshed out roles; while Demian Bichir as the distant and recovering alcoholic father, gives a compelling performance and is almost convincing as a Chicano.

However, the missing element in this film is the music.  Was there no money for the rights to the music that is feeds the mood of the lowriding culture? The music is sorely missed in the soundtrack.  This is not a film to skim on classic lowriding music.   It’s like the salt that gives it flavor!    Puede ser, que por eso le falta sabor a este film.

So on the COOList scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 5 on the COOOOOList

Full Cast:  Gabriel Chavarria (East Los High, War for the Planet of the Apes), Demian Bichir (A Better Life, The Hateful Eight), Eva Longoria (Telenovela, Desperate Housewives), Theo Rossi (Luke Cage, Sons of Anarchy), Melissa Benoist (Supergirl, Glee) and Tony Revolori (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Grand Budapest Hotel). 

The film was directed by Ricardo de Montreuil and produced by Academy Award Winner Brian Grazer and Academy Award Nominee and Emmy Award Winner Jason Blum.  Lowriders will open theatrically on May 12, 2017.

 

 

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