Lowriders doesn’t have the most original skeleton out there, but the flesh is fresh. This (admittedly kinda gross) metaphor is just to say that Ricardo De Montreuil’s new movie takes some pretty well worn tropes and gives them new life by submerging them, not unlike Creed, in a distinct subculture that of the type of people Hollywood usually doesn’t immerse itself in, namely those of people of color.
Centering around the life of Danny (Gabriel Chavarria), an 18-ish year old latino graffiti artist whose clashes with his emotionally withdrawn father Miguel (Demián Bichir) intensify after his brother “Ghost” (Theo Rossi) gets out of jail. Their father runs an auto shop dedicated to the art (and, as various monologues tell us, powerful tradition) of creating lowriders, and seems to care more about the prized car he intends to compete with in an upcoming LA event than he or Ghost—especially the latter, who he basically ignores.
There’s not much point talking about the broad plot of the script by Cheo Hodari Coker (Luke Cage) and Elgin James (whose Wikipedia bio is wild); what makes Lowriders good is the details. Chavarria’s narration over scenes where Danny and his friends navigate LA’s nightlife feel fresh and invigorating, and whether it’s explaining the history of local lowrider-related events, or taking his bewildered brother to The Smell, director Ricardo de Montreuil keeps the camera close to the great ensemble to make you feel like you’re with them.
Which is a good route to lowride down, since they’re the strongest part. Rossi, who you might recognize as Shades from Luke Cage, has a singularly weird screen presence, a relaxed menace that packs everything he says with extra tension, and is especially great, but Chavarria, Bichir, and Melissa Benoist as Danny’s hipster photographer love interest Lorelai are all highlights that keep the familiar plot from getting rote.
Overall, Lowriders is a great window into a piece of LA that movies made here don’t give nearly enough screen time to. There’s even some good commentary about this, when Lorelai successfully markets Danny’s work to a gallery owner by trodding out a bunch of half true stereotypes about latino artists (when she says “he was self taught on the streets,” he tries to interject “I’m not homeless,” but the conversation’s already gotten away from him).
Lowriders may not be the fastest or most furious film about car-based LA families, but with it’s great cast and fresh look at the city, it’s a pretty good (low)ride.