Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune
The family drama "Lowriders," starring Demian Bichir and Eva Longoria, explores the car culture of East Los Angeles, delving into the roots of lowriding. Though the tricked out, bouncing vintage cars are a staple of '90s rap videos, "Lowriders," directed by Ricardo de Montreuil, situates these iconic vehicles within a historical context, while telling a family story of grief, loss and redemption.
Our hero is Danny (Gabriel Chavarria), a young man from Boyle Heights in East LA, just setting out on his adult life. He's a street artist, leaving his graffiti tag on any available piece of the city he can find. He has a tough relationship with his stern father, auto shop owner Miguel (Bichir), and is reckoning with the return of his brother Francisco "Ghost" (Theo Rossi) upon his release from prison.
While "Lowriders" follows some traditional family drama blueprints and formulas, where it excels is in its depiction of the Los Angeles of 2017. As Danny describes in an early scene, LA is his playground, and he doesn't feel limited by the borders of his hood, his ethnicity or his crew. He and his pals embrace the multi-ethnic and diverse world of the city, from their Boyle Heights homes to Koreatown to punk shows to taco trucks.
This freedom to explore any aspect of their identity and interests isn't necessarily one that was afforded to his father or even his brother. The older men locate their sense of self in the predominantly Latino car culture, in their neighborhoods and communities that have been shaped by immigration, an increased police force, and in their ethnic identity. As Danny explains in narration, lowriding was once outlawed, so Latino car clubs learned to use hydraulics to lift and lower their vehicles. The cars became outlets for creative self-expression, and the competitions a point of pride.
A romance with an edgy, hipster white photographer, Lorelai (Melissa Benoist), exposes Danny to the world of high art. While Lorelai urges him to seek out opportunities to show in galleries, their differences of opinion on the function and place for art reveal the differences in their cultural values. "The whole city is my gallery," Danny says. Ultimately, he embraces his heritage and the way that his father and ancestors have expressed themselves.
Some of the most exciting parts of "Lowriders" are the glimpses into the car club world. With a stronger focus on the cars themselves, this film could have been akin to the first "Fast and the Furious" movie, exploring an automotive subculture. But the script leans so heavily on the father-son drama between Miguel, Danny and Ghost, that it's far more about family than cars. Here, the cars symbolize the family cracking apart or coming together.
While "Lowriders" offers an interesting entree into this world, it's unfortunately too formulaic and predictable to leave much of an impact. The trio of lead performances is strong, and the film is a fine breakout leading role for the charismatic Chavarria. But the standard issue story and themes are routine at best. "Lowriders" is fascinating cultural exposure, but lacks a truly impactful story.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use).
Running time: 1:39