Holy Rollers (2010)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Juvenile Delinquency Film  |   Release Date - May 21, 2010 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Holy Rollers would have all the ingredients of a nice piece of Scorsese lite -- if it weren't totally and utterly flat. Kevin Asch's film has an unfamiliar criminal enterprise (the ecstasy trade) operated by a very unfamiliar group of criminals (Hasidic Jews), both just begging to be illuminated by the kind of treatment Martin Scorsese brought to Goodfellas. It even has a clever pun in its title, as people who take ecstasy are said to be "rolling." What it doesn't have is spark. The film ambles between the stages of Sam Gold's descent into a world totally opposite his rabbinical studies, making clear the path from A to B to C, but giving us no reason why the temptations of this life are so irresistible to him. This could be because DP Ben Kutchins refuses to alter his color palette as Sam's life becomes more exciting, leaving the look of the film consistently washed out, whether Sam is studying the Torah or absorbing Amsterdam. When he does finally take ecstasy, only a few token camera tricks visualize the experience. Asch also wastes Jesse Eisenberg in the leading role. Because he doesn't get much emotion out of Eisenberg, who contributes only a nonspecific yearning marked by abrupt surliness, he fails to capitalize on the actor's stratospheric ascent toward stardom. That said, you get the feeling Holy Rollers would have been a minor blip in the careers of most actors. It doesn't commit any egregious gaffs, and it does contain interesting insight into both the pressures of Hasidic Judaism and the mechanisms of a real-life smuggling ring. It's just that the film comes off with all the passion of a shrug, before petering out into an unsatisfying coda. It's disappointing when such ostentatious subject matter gets such pale execution.