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Idling 'Lowriders' muses on art, family and car culture

POSTED May 16, 2017 1:11 a.m.
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"LOWRIDERS" — 2½ stars — Gabriel Chavarria, Demian Bichir, Theo Rossi, Rony Revolori, Melissa Benoist; PG-13 (for language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use); in general release

“Lowriders” has a lot of thoughtful parts that don’t quite mesh into a coherent whole.

Director Ricardo de Montreuil’s film tells the story of a street artist who is trying to break away from the family business. It’s a familiar story, but in this case, the family business is lowriders.

Miguel (Demián Bichir) has run the Alvarez and Sons family garage for years, and the key to the mechanic’s identity and financial success is a beautiful 1961 Chevrolet Impala called Green Poison that he regularly enters into Los Angeles-area car shows. He’s always dreamed of the day his sons would join him in his passion and build a car of their own, but alcoholism and other factors got in the way.

Miguel’s youngest son, Danny (Gabriel Chavarria), isn’t interested in fulfilling his father’s dream. Danny has been trying to make a name for himself in an unorthodox way: by spraying it in street graffiti on the concrete canvas of greater Los Angeles. We meet him as he’s out partying with his friends, and when the police bust him for tagging a local bridge, tensions with his father come to a head.

It doesn’t help matters that Danny’s older brother Francisco (Theo Rossi) has just been released after nearly a decade behind bars. Francisco’s nickname is Ghost because, in all that time, Miguel refused to visit his son, or even speak his name. Francisco shares the family passion for building lowriders, but chooses to join a rival car club in preparation for an important contest featuring a $10,000 prize.

So Danny finds himself torn between his father and his brother’s camps, and his affections are split a third direction as he gets more and more involved with a pretty photographer named Lorelai (Melissa Benoist) who wants him to pursue his own artistic endeavors.

“Lowriders” doesn’t rise much above the tension of a simple family drama until after that first contest, and even then, its different parts struggle to jell. The plot has a fairly obvious solution — Danny should employ his artistic talents on his father’s custom cars rather than on random private property — but "Lowriders" continues to idle when it should be revving its engine.

More important, too often Danny feels like a casual observer, the object of the action rather than the instigator. Miguel and Francisco are much more interesting characters and benefit from more seasoned performances.

“Lowriders” has a lot to say about art and family — Miguel’s anchor is his new wife Gloria (Eva Longoria), who is trying to fill the gap left after Danny and Francisco’s mother passed away years earlier. But the different themes and subplots, especially the romantic thread between Danny and Lorelai, struggle to come together into a single satisfying story. Director de Montreuil might have been better off focusing on one or the other threads, and finding a way to inject a little more tension into the situation.

Still, for anyone who is passionate about lowriders, classic cars or art in general, “Lowriders” will manage to strike a chord or two. And it does send a nice message about flawed people trying to overcome those flaws to come together as a family, even if “Lowriders” stumbles its way there.

"Lowriders" is rated PG-13 for some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use; running time: 99 minutes.

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