My notes for The Tax Collector represent a rapid spiral into madness. The first red flag appears at the top of the page, where I scribbled: “Like the Fast and Furious movies, only not as smart. Or funny.” Yikes. From there, I pour on adjectives, like syrup onto steaming pancakes: “Ugly, violent, borderline incoherent, downright boring.” My last entries read like something from a scrawny, babbling Donner Party survivor. “This is an express elevator into hell–it doesn’t end. It just keeps falling.” And, at last: “Make it stop. Please. Make it stop!!!“
“Angels and minsters of grace, defend us.”Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Man, I don’t just need a shower after this movie. Give me an entire spa weekend. I’m talking cucumbers over the eyes, seedless grapes, and John Tesh: Live at Red Rocks on repeat. The works. I can only hope my melodramatic flair has sufficiently turned you away from The Tax Collector. With that said, if you’re one of those people with an appetite for self-destruction, then go ahead and step onto my express elevator. Just be warned: It gets warm real damn quick.
The story follows David (Bobby Soto) and Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), two henchmen for Wizard, a powerful Mexican mafioso. They prowl the streets of L.A., collecting “taxes” from people who dare to live and work on Wizard’s turf. If anybody falls short on a payment, David and Creeper whip out the pliers and chainsaws and start torturing their prey. Yup, those are your heroes.
Everything turns crazy go nuts when a rival slimelord (Jose “Conejo” Martin) arrives to bully into Wizard’s territory. He delivers a chilling ultimatum to David and Creeper: Join me or die. This puts our favorite psychopaths in a bit of a conundrum. Do they flip sides and buy safety for David’s civilian wife (Cinthya Carmona) and children? Or, should they remain loyal to their old employers?
Spoiler alert: You won’t care either way. What follows is a soul-crushing, squib-splattering blur of whizzing bullets and plopping bodies. The script (by David Ayer, who also directed) is just skim milk, giving us watered-down character development and motivation. All we know is that David wants to protect his family, and Creeper wants a little more than life is currently giving him.
Yeah, yeah, whatever. For all their blather about wanting out, David and Creeper still stroll into beatdowns and killings with well-tailored suits and expensive haircuts. They make sure to strike cool poses and sling knock-off Tarantino one-liners. You can’t tell me these two yahoos don’t love what they do. If I’m in a job that’s as miserable as they claim, I’m rolling in wearing busted flip flops and a Bugle Boy tank top.
And that’s just one of this movie’s many crimes. It wastes Soto and LaBeouf, two capable actors. That goes ditto for George Lopez, who has a couple of empty scenes as Soto’s hard-bitten uncle. Martin’s villain is so cartoonishly sadistic that he ratchets up this film’s unpleasantness several notches. Ayer also has no idea what to do with David’s wife, so he settles on the misogynistic trope of having her say and do dumb things just to endanger and motivate the hero. It’s so boring to see female characters who only exist to be rescued or avenged.
All that leads to The Tax Collector‘s worst offense: It sends 95 minutes of my life swirling down the toilet. That’s time I could’ve spent training for a 5k, or seeing how many spicy Cheez-Its I could fit in my mouth at once. (Editor’s note: The answer is 16.) But noooo, I’ve got to watch this grimy, blood-soaked mess of a movie. I suppose I could’ve just pasted my notes online and left it at that, particularly one line of gibberish that reads: “Bad or worse? Somehow, both.”
95 min. R.