The Tax Collector
by George Wolf
You may have heard Shia LaBeouf recently got his entire chest tattooed for his role as “Creeper” in The Tax Collector. Uncommon intensity from the gifted LaBeouf is nothing new, but why he would be motivated to do this is one of the many questions plaguing the latest from writer/director David Ayers.
Creeper is the supporting player here, the nattily clad and tightly wound muscle for organized crime boss David (Bobby Soto). Working for the mysterious Wizard (Jimmy Smits), David and Creeper collect “taxes” from each and every gang in L.A.
43 gangs at 30 percent each means David is living well. That is, until old rival Conejo (veteran rapper Jose Conejo Martin) returns with an aim to take over, and kill anyone who thinks that’s a problem. He does voodoo, too, so there’s a wrinkle.
Much of the film’s early going recalls Ayers’s scripts for both Training Day and End of Watch, as we follow David and Creeper on a loosely-connected series of stops, from violent tax collections to family business with David’s wife (Cinthya Carmona) and Uncle (George Lopez).
David’s expressed devotion to his home life sets up the chance of a Michael Corleone-type thread exploring the difficulty of balancing two worlds, but Ayers leaves it dangling for some stylish but empty brutality in a gang war.
Soto (from 2011’s wonderful A Better Life) and LaBeouf form an impressive duo, but they are continually let down by the script’s generic macho posturing (“We killing anybody today, homie?” “Shit’s getting real”) and over-the-top ambitions to “wash away our sins” by killing a boatload of people.
And as you might guess, LaBeouf playing a Latino gangster is troublesome. Though Ayers has pushed back by saying the character is one who has absorbed the world around him (a claim somewhat bolstered by Ayers’s own background), Creeper never gets the development needed to make LaBeouf’s committed performance land as much more than – at best – intense appropriation.
By the film’s final showdown, the biggest question here concerns the point of it all. It had to be more than that tattoo, or just standard revenge fare as deeply felt as a video game commercial.
But despite the slick camerawork from cinematographer Salvatore Totino, here we are. There are possibilities strewn about The Tax Collector that might have gelled into a robbers bookend for the compelling cops in Ayers’s End of Watch.
But like pesky overdue notices, ignore those possibilities too long and there’s a great big mess on your hands. Or on your screen.