Shia LaBeouf channels his inner psycho-killer in The Tax Collector, director David Ayer's immersive plunge into a part of the Los Angeles drug world populated by the city's Latinos. Playing a character known as the Creeper, LaBeouf puts on a scary face.
Creeper earns his living as the strong arm for the title character, a "tax collector" (Bobby Soto) who works for a cartel. Soto’s David collects a share of all drug dealings in South Central. David lives by a code that's as unoriginal as the rest of the movie, something about love, family, loyalty, and honor.
You get the idea. It's possible to view The Tax Collector as a movie with a screenplay based almost entirely on tattoos.
To create the movie’s gangsters-are-people-too ethos, David lives with his wife (Cinthya Carmona) and takes a strictly business approach to his work. When he's not overseeing beatings or putting on his tough-guy pose, he lives like a normal person.
Things go smoothly for the movie's criminals until an aspiring new crime czar arrives in Los Angeles. Conejo (Jose Martin) wants to put David and Creeper under his thumb, which, of course, leads to major trouble, which means lots of bullets will fly and many bodies will hit the ground.
Perhaps in a bow to equal opportunity, Ayers makes Conejo's major hit person a woman (Cheyenne Rae Hernandez).
Ayer, who wrote the screenplay for Training Day and who directed Suicide Squad, knows his way around gangster jargon and his movie -- all gangsters all the time -- paints a portrait of South Central as a world unto itself. Too bad it feels more like a B-movie world than one that might be found in real life.
Among a group of guys who are up to no good, David stands out as a man who sometimes allows his decent impulses emerge. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that David is a little guy among some big-time bad guys. He works for his uncle Louis (George Lopez). A mostly unseen mobster named Wizard presides over all of his.
Despite some religious references, Tax Collector makes its bones with action, violence and attitude. Strong on performance and atmosphere, The Tax Collector takes us down a familiar blood-soaked road.
Drugs. Money. Night clubs. Shoot-outs. Tragedy. Gang rivalries. Just another day at the movies.