Brooklyn, Sammy Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) lives a preordained life as the oldest
son of a solid Jewish family. He works for his father’s tailoring business, but
is expected to become a rabbi. He’s also arranged to be married.
There’s much kvetching.
Sammy’s life takes a turn for the
unexpected when he unwittingly goes into business with his neighbour Yosef,
who’s a fairly unorthodox Jew – he smokes and watches TV on shabbos, and in his
spare time he imports tens of thousands of ecstasy pills.
Taking at face value Yosef’s talk of
collecting medicines, Sammy, who’s got a thing for earning a bit more gelt,
recruits his best friend Leon (Jason
Fuchs) and they fly to Amsterdam, which is a test of anyone’s faith.
Sammy is fantastically awkward, a klutz,
and horrifyingly naïve – Eisenberg
is well-cast, his blank-faced naïf shtick is perfect for the role.
On their return, and having seen things
that young Hasidic Jews probably shouldn’t, Leon decides he’s out. Sammy wants
more, and quickly his spiel and chutzpah gets him in the good
books with the big boss man, Jackie (Danny
Abeckaser). He also starts getting close to Jackie’s girl, Rachel (Ari Graynor), despite Yosef’s
protestations not to get too smart.
But Yosef’s got his own problems, going
off the rails in time-honoured fashion, getting high on your own supply.
Back in Brooklyn, Sammy finds there are
no secrets in the Hassidic community. Despite this, and newly shorn of his
sideburns, Sammy recruits more mules from the neighbourhood. In this pre-9/11
world (the film is set in the late 1990s), airport security is somewhat lax.
But then, suddenly, it isn’t.
Based on actual events, Holy Rollers
ticks along at a decent if uninspiring pace, but too often reaches into the
crime-thriller box of cliché. Eisenberg’s charm just about carries the film,
but the real star is Graynor, whose initial confident, sexy gangster’s moll
gives way to reveal a frightened young woman, desperate to escape.
New York itself casts a pall over this
movie – if you want drug lords, American
Gangster is more adrenaline-fuelled; if you want Jewish hustlers, Once Upon A Time In America is the
obvious choice (incidentally, there’s a scene in the DVD extras which is a
clear homage to the Leone epic).
Holy Rollers doesn’t hold up next to
either of those – it’s not bupkes, but neither is it the kosher