The sordid lives of an addict, an ex-con, and a luchador collide when an organ harvesting caper goes very, very wrong.
Crystal needs a kidney, Kaylee needs to escape, Keith needs to repay a debt, Teddy “Bear” Haynes needs organs, El Monstruo needs to carry on his honorable legacy, and Randy just needs to figure out a way to get the swastika tattoo off of his face. There is a lot going on in Ryan Prows’ new comedy crime thriller, Lowlife. Moving at a break-neck speed, four stories are tossed into a blender and dispatched with dextrous editing and clever writing that recalls the best of Tarantino told through a Guy Ritchie lens. Think Snatch but in Los Angeles.
Our story opens perfectly, setting up a delicious bad guy in Teddy “Bear”(Mark Burnham). One staged ICE raid later, and his goons are herding female illegal immigrants into an underground facility that screams “Hostel”. If he isn’t forcing some into prostitution, he is harvesting organs and selling them on the black market. So, yeah. Good guy, huh?
“…he is harvesting organs and selling them on the black market.”
Weird thing is that his muscleman is a Luchadore named El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) who is bound by the honor of his word to carry out Teddy’s command. The moral conundrum aside, El Monstruo also has a child on the way with his wife, Kaylee (Santana Dempsey) . Unfortunately, Kaylee sees through the insanity, has had enough, and plans to leave with or without El Monstruo.
We cut to a new chapter and meet Crystal (Nicki Micheaux). Her ailing husband needs a kidney to live and, after saving the money, it seems like he might get what he needs. It’s just unfortunate that Crystal when she isn’t running the front desk at her motel, is also sleuthing far more than she should.
Finally, we get to meet Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) as he picks up his friend Randy (Jon Oswald) from prison. Easily one of the funniest performances of the year so far, Oswald’s Randy is a white male ex-con who is totally street smart but somehow confused that having a swastika tattooed on his pale, white face is an issue. Keith has money issues. Big money issues. He owes Teddy some change and is hoping he can snake his way out of it.
“…Jon Oswald…easily one of the funniest performances of the year so far…”
Told in chapter breaks, each storyline is told from its specific point of view, revealing more details from different perspectives along the way, leading to the crescendo of chaos in the third act. The script is a finely-tuned Rubik’s Cube of plotlines and gags. Director Ryan Prows, co-wrote the script with Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, and Maxwell Michael Towson and hats off to them. Lowlife is a gloriously insane, pulpy mess of disparate people doing desperate things. The wit in the writing married to the razor-sharp editing delivers everything from laugh out loud moments to gasps of shock. Still, you can’t look away, the movie is way too much fun.
Micheaux’s Crystal is a great new take on the embattled female holding her shit together. She has a lot going on, but she isn’t helpless. She is decisive and believable. Oswald’s Randy is perfect. Street smart and as dumb as a post. Burnham’s evil Teddy reminded me of JAWS from the James Bond movies with a little bit of Michael Shannon’s baddy from The Shape of Water.
What I am trying to say is that Lowlife is one of the best films of the year so far. It has a script that is sharp as hell, great performances, and direction that leads the entire circus with a deft command. See this movie for God’s sake.
Lowlife (2018) Directed by Ryan Prows. Written by Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Ryan Prows, and Maxwell Michael Towson. Starring Mark Burnham, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Santana Dempsey, Nicki Micheaux, Shaye Ogbonna, and Jon Oswald.
Lowlife is worth Full Price (****)
Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)