×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Lowlife’

Several ill-fated characters intersect in a clever 'Pulp Fiction'-like black comedy crime melodrama without the snarkiness.

Director:
Ryan Prows
With:
Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald, Shaye Ogbonna, Santana Dempsey, Mark Burnham, Jose Rosete, King Orba, Olivia Benavides, Anna Pulido, Jearnest Corchado, Clayton Cardenas. (English, Spanish dialogue.)
Release Date:
Apr 6, 2018

1 hour 36 minutes

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7012864/reference

Lowlife” is not the movie you’d expect from a comedy collective making its first feature: While mordantly humorous, this tale of several lives fatefully intertwining in the dank underbelly of Los Angeles plays its violent, over-the-top events in pokerfaced fashion. Though the backtracking, overlapping episodic structure is reminiscent of “Pulp Fiction,” there’s none of the garrulous snark or fanboy winking Tarantino wannabes customarily indulge in. Instead, this team-written effort by L.A.-based crew Tomm Fondle (of which director Ryan Prows is a member) nicely calibrates a twisty course between straight crime melodrama and black comedy, one that has cult-following potential among adventurous genre fans.

The four chaptered narrative sections rewind to offer backstory, and replay specific action, from different perspectives, though there’s little to no actual repetition. The thing that unites virtually all protagonists is that they’re each eventually imperiled by ties to the ruthless Teddy “Bear” Haynes (Mark Burnham), a sleazy operator whose taco stand is a cover for all kinds of nasty business. At the start, one of his goons poses as an ICE agent to haul off several presumed illegals from a low-end motel. But instead of being processed for deportation, the terrified emigres discover they’ve landed in the hands of organ harvesters and sex traffickers.

Viewing this raid with dismay if incomplete understanding is motel proprietress Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), whose complicated history with Teddy now encompasses a deal to get her hapless alcoholic husband (King Orba) a kidney transplant. Under Teddy’s direct employ is the man known only as El Monstrous (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a reluctant strong-arm prone to blackout rages, and who has delusional blind faith in the mythology of the masked luchador wrestling-figure identity inherited from his father and grandfather. El Mounstrous’ fed-up wife is the very pregnant Kaylee (Santana Dempsey), Teddy’s adoptive daughter and a questionably recovered addict.

As these figures and others come into frequently mistaken, sometimes fatal conflict, the unforgiving Teddy lengthens his hit list, which soon includes his embezzling accountant Keith (Shaye Ogbonna). The most overtly comic figure here is Keith’s pal, Randy (Jon Oswald), newly released from prison: Randy has been away a long time — long enough to not quite grasp that the swastika he’s gotten tattooed all over his face might provide a slight hindrance to societal re-intregration. Yet he, like most of the characters here, proves to have some surprising hidden sides to a seemingly irredeemable personality.

Rape, abduction, drug abuse, murder, suicide and more dot this eventful ensemble piece, but Prows and company don’t simply play the often outrageous (and occasionally grisly) content for tasteless sensationalism, comic or otherwise. They treat it with an interesting, empathic yet slightly detached tone somewhere between the respectful and the droll. The result doesn’t downplay or trivialize horror but sees a certain cruel absurdism (as well as eventual justice) in the way things play out. A climax in the chamber of horrors beneath the taco stand ties these tangled strands into a bloody bow — one that allows more room for unironic redemption than you’d anticipate.

“Lowlife,” a term that might apply to Teddy, and/or to everyone else here, isn’t a knockout. But it is consistently unpredictable and confident in its offbeat effects. The performances are all strong, from Micheaux’s strongly sympathetic turn as the one relatively pure soul in this down-market moral morass, to the more flamboyant (but still disciplined) characters played by Zarate, Burnham and Oswald. The assembly is astute on all levels, with one smart choice being Belgian composer Kreng’s decision to provide a straight-suspense score, though some preexisting-track additions add antic notes.

Film Review: 'Lowlife'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 31, 2018. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: An IFC Midnight release of a Tomm Fondle presentation in association with The Salt Co. and Initialize Films. Producers: Tim Cairo, Derek Bishe, Narineh Hacopian. Executive producers: Jake Gibson, Lauren Lillie, James Norrie, Robert Bevan, Cyril Megret, Ian Davies, Mark Foligno, Tor Bengtsson.

Crew: Director: Ryan Prows. Screenplay: Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Prows, Maxwell Michael Towson. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Benjamin Kitchens. Editors: Brett W. Bachman, Jarod Shannon. Music: Kreng.

With: Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald, Shaye Ogbonna, Santana Dempsey, Mark Burnham, Jose Rosete, King Orba, Olivia Benavides, Anna Pulido, Jearnest Corchado, Clayton Cardenas. (English, Spanish dialogue.)

More Film

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • berlin film festival placeholder berlinale

    Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners: Complete List

    The 69th Berlin Film Festival kicked off on Saturday, with 16 films vying for the Golden and Silver Bears, among them such critically acclaimed entries as Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chinese drama “So Long, My Son” and “By the Grace of God” by François Ozon. Juliette Binoche served as Jury President, with other members of the jury [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content