89 minutes elapses easily enough in this comedy-crime drama staring Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Justin Bartha (The Hangover). Eisenberg plays a 20 year old Hasidic Jew, living in Brooklyn and studying to become a rabbi. He’s about to be married and is respectfully working with his Father at his garment factory when he is led into temptation by Yosef, a rebel Jew disillusioned with his religion.
Yosef is in the drug smuggling business. After flashing Sam his Rolex watch, he persuades him to help export ‘medicine for rich people’ into Europe. Incredibly naïve, Sam and his earnest friend Leon (Jason Fuchs) fly to Amsterdam. Leon is disgusted when they discover their unintentional journey into the underworld, but Sam is enticed by the easy money and apparent independence the job brings him. Cue scenes of him caressing wads of cash and smiling to himself. It’s only a matter of time before he chops off his payot (side curls) and flaunts his new wardrobe. All can’t run smoothly for long, of course, in this dangerous lifestyle infused with late night partying and women. Sacred and secular views clash and his world comes crashing down.
Eisenberg is the film’s saviour. Sam is torn between two identities. He’s suitably neurotic and nervous, but has a rebellious streak and an eye for business. He has screen presence as both good Sam and bad Sam, yet the transition between the two isn’t shown. One minute he refuses to shake a girl’s hand ‘out of respect’ for her and the next he’s on pills on the dance floor, sandwiched between two women. Holy Rollers is predictably treading on familiar territory. Like Blow and Mr Nice the film is based on a true story. A small group of Hasidic Jews were responsible for importing over a million ecstasy pills back in the late 1990s. There isn’t enough action, violence or tension for it to be a decent crime film. There isn’t any tension, in fact. We aren’t made to sense their sweaty palms as they approach the security gates. It all seems to tick along fairly swimmingly really.
Holy Rollers is essentially a morality drama that explores the repercussions of denying your heritage and trying to be someone else. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but it is distinctly mediocre. It’s just another watchable, but easily dismissible, indie flick.