David Ayer loves Los Angeles. Most of his films—both his writing efforts and his directing ones—use the city as the backdrop for their often violent storylines. He enjoys LA’s outsized reputation for gangland carnage and, from a 2020 context, glorifies the police too much. But usually his films are entertaining, stylish and make good use of Los Angeles as a canvas.

This is not the case for The Tax Collector, the latest written-and-directed-by LA film by Ayer. Appraising the film does not require much sophistication: it simply is not very good, in any way. The script is full of clichés, warmed-over plot points from better films, characters with less depth than a slip-and-slide and nonsensical action. The visuals look as if they are trying to imitate Harmony Korine, but they fail to do so and even their jab at mimicry is merely half-hearted and inchoate. The acting is difficult to judge because so many of the lines are so stilted and childish and the characters are all one-note, but the acting certainly does not save The Tax Collector. Unfortunately, this film is as if someone placed “Breaking Bad,” Sicario and The Boondock Saints in a Mad Lib script-writing software and then paid for the resulting movie production with the budget TNT has laid aside for their next Tuesday night TV show.

The plot, such as it is, features David (Bobby Soto) as a petty servant to the Wizard, who is some kind of gangster overlord who polices the gangs. David then “collects taxes” from the various LA criminal enterprises; anyone who does not pay will have to suffer consequences, such as the cops gunning down their leadership. David is assisted by his enforcer, Creeper (Shia LeBeouf, in a part that can only be described as self-parody). As is inevitable, the whole gangland hierarchy gets seismically stirred up by the return of a lunatic from Mexico called Conejo (Jose Conejo Martin) who wants to usurp the Wizard.

What ensues is a series of shootouts between David’s people and Conejo’s people, but with all the are-they-truly-saying-that-horseshit-line-in-earnest pomp and circumstance of a movie with nothing to say. Very little here makes sense and even less is interesting or entertaining. The Tax Collector does not go for laughs (and does not get any, either), the action sequences are incoherent and the climax is never in doubt. There is a lot of ripped-from-the-headlines violence: people being flayed alive, dipped in acid and tortured in another half dozen creative ways. But it takes more than affected Mexican accents, shiny pistols and recycled lines viewers already heard in a previous piece of screen culture—for instance, Creeper’s introductory line is nearly verbatim from one of the most famous scenes in “Breaking Bad”—to make a worthwhile film.

The Tax Collector also has significant pacing issues. In many ways, it has enough plot that it feels like a season of a (bad) television show crammed down into less than 100 minutes, but in other ways, the whole script is so vacuous and devoid of characters or ideas that even the 100 minutes feels interminably long.

Summary
Very little here makes sense and even less is interesting or entertaining.
25 %
Miss this one
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