THE TAX COLLECTOR is a Bloody Bore

David Ayer returns to the gritty crime drama he built his name on.

After a run of high profile movies with the WWII drama Fury, and the big budget misfires Suicide Squad and Bright, writer-director David Ayer is back in his wheelhouse with The Tax Collector. Ayer has built his brand on gritty crime movies about men who live their lives in the streets, operating by their own code of ethics. The good guys and bad guys are separated by the thinnest of margins, if at all. But it’s always guys at the heart of everything, with women filling token roles as wives, girlfriends, and mistresses. Ayer’s film’s are built on machismo and ooze testosterone. The Tax Collector feels like self-parody, a film so masculine it might just slap you in the face just to let you know it’s tougher than you. It’s Ayer on autopilot. It’s also one of his worst films.

The one sentence summary of The Tax Collector is that it’s about a low level player who goes around collecting taxes from local gangs and taking the money back to his crime lord boss. That’s about all there is to the story. That collector is David (Bobby Soto). David does a lot of posturing and spews a lot of hollow threats, but it’s his sharply dressed enforcer, Creeper (Shia Labeouf), who handles the violence. Creeper stands out for a couple reasons. In a cast dominated by Hispanic and Black faces, Creeper is the only prominent white person. And second, Labeouf, reteaming with his Fury director, is deploying an unfortunate accent. Creeper sounds like he’s trying too hard to fit in. If he weren’t a certifiable psychopath, Creeper wouldn’t have survived in this world as long as he has.

In a movie full of killers David is supposed to be the one we care about. The movie tells the audience this because David is the only person we see with his family. Every other character in this world is a cypher and nothing more. They say things we don’t care about and do things that make us cringe. The Tax Collector is a banal film, and a repulsively violent one as well. In fact, the only time The Tax Collector shows any creativity is when people are dying. It’s tedious to watch.

So, anyway, David and Creeper are out picking up money when they run into Conejo (Jose Conejo Martin), an old rival of David’s uncle. Threats are exchanged, those threats turn into violence, and so it goes. The Tax Collector is so, so bad. It is never, not even for a second of its 95 minute runtime, interesting, compelling, or otherwise worthwhile. Everything Ayer is aiming for here he’s done better in the past (Training Day) or just done it before (Harsh Times, Street Kings).

Ayer’s films have always trafficked in ugliness in service of pulp entertainment. The characters may espouse the moral codes their worlds operate by, but really they’re just doing ethical gymnastics to justify the way they’ve chosen to live. Everything Ayer has to say in this regard was done back in Training Day when Denzel explains the notion of street justice. The Tax Collector is an extension of that logic, but doesn’t add anything new to it. Despite recycling his old bits, The Tax Collector belongs in the trash bin.

The Tax Collector is now in theaters, on demand and digital from RLJE Films

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