David Ayer stumbles badly with his latest LA gangster flick. The Tax Collector is violent and gruesome as hell, but poorly written with an absurd plot. The characters behave nonsensically in a world of obvious betrayals. Ayer also tries to incorporate religious and familial themes. It's a disjointed effort that ultimately fails on both counts. The Tax Collector is a big disappointment from the writer of Training Day, Street Kings, and End of Watch.
Bobby Soto stars as David Cuevas. He and his partner, Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), are tax collectors for a jailed drug lord called Wizard. They shakedown local Chicano gangs for the right to do business and a hefty percentage. Not having Wizard's money results in severe consequences. Both men are seasoned killers, but have vastly different philosophical approaches. David is a deeply religious family man with a loving wife (Cinthya Carmona) and three children. Creeper is an atheist obsessed with the keto diet. He's the enforcer that happily runs a power drill through knees and skins people alive.
David receives a coded message from Wizard while preparing for his daughter's Quinceañera. He and Creeper have a massive pickup scheduled from a reluctant payer. They are shocked to find Conejo (Jose Martin), an infamous devil-worshipping Mexican cartel boss, waiting for them. He's taking Wizard's business. Conejo offers David a chance to "kiss the ring" and join his crew. David coldly refuses the offer. He's made a deadly choice with devastating consequences.
The Tax Collector has a similar set-up to previous David Ayer crime thrillers. The primary leads drive around Los Angeles, engage in loquacious banter, and get into savage shootouts. A winning formula is derailed by the underlying themes. David is a religious man who somehow believes he gets a Jesus pass for murder. He and Creeper are supposed to be the most lethal, bad-ass killers in the drug game. Yet they are caught completely off guard by Conejo's brutal response. Their actions are illogical, especially when it comes to protecting David's family. The Tax Collector has a predictable narrative with zero surprises.
Shia LaBeouf's casting as Creeper was widely criticized on social media. David Ayer was accused of "brown-facing" for having a white actor play a Latino role. This is utter nonsense. Ayer grew up around Mexican gang culture in Los Angeles. He's been brilliant, up to this point, writing and directing films in this genre. Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf are charismatic leads. They elevate a subpar outing from Ayer. Any racial backlash is unfounded and shouldn't be used to disparage the film.
The Tax Collector has stomach churning, realistic torture scenes. The action suffices, but the gore feels overboard. A baddie literally has his face torn to mulch after he's dragged across concrete. Ayer has always pushed the envelope, but that's a tad extreme. I also had issues with his strange editing choices during the climactic battle. The Tax Collector is a misstep from a good filmmaker. I have no doubt that David Ayer will bounce back. The Tax Collector is a production of Cedar Park Entertainment and Cross Creek Pictures. It will be available on demand August 7th from RLJE Films.