The Tax Collector: Fraud, by David Bax
Have you ever seen an advertisement for a movie and thought to yourself, “There’s no way this thing actually exists”? Not because it sounds especially crazy or anything like that, but because it seems so lame that you can’t imagine anyone putting the effort into making it nor can you imagine, once made, anyone putting the effort into watching it? Well, I actually watched one. It’s called The Tax Collector and, as it turns out, effort had nothing to do with it.
Writer/director David Ayer has made successful movies that people like but, filmically, The Tax Collector appears to be the work of an overconfident, under-inspired neophyte. With its cheap After Effects zooms and swoops, it’s like a music video by a bad YouTube rapper who lucked into access to a nice house for an afternoon. Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf play collectors who work for a gangster who taxes other gangsters for… protection, I guess? It’s not worth dwelling on since that’s only the first layer of stupid in a plot that somehow pulls off the feat of being surprising in how relentlessly unoriginal it is.
If there’s anything about The Tax Collector that’s worth watching, it’s LaBeouf, an actor whose intense, bizarre commitment makes him the focal point of any scene he’s in. Suited, tattooed, pierced, groom and outfitted with cauliflower ear prosthetics, he turns his fierce, brutal and loyal Creeper into a kind of meta-macho performance art. The fact that he complements it all with a supremely unnecessary Chicano accent is unfortunate, if perversely fascinating.
Sadly, LaBeouf is not the lead. As gangster family man David, Bobby Soto has that assignment but he fails to distinguish the character in any way beyond uncharismatic brooding. That’s a pretty minor complaint, though, as no actor could make such an aggressively bland stock character as this one work.
It would be misleading to imply the The Tax Collector represents a zenith of Ayer’s troubling preoccupation with glorifying stereotypes of Latinx crime culture in Los Angeles. In truth, this film comes across more like a second-rate knockoff of his style and milieu. Pandemic or not, The Tax Collector feels like it was always destined for a VOD premiere.
This is the work of a poseur so lacking in self-awareness, he doesn’t even recognize how bad he is at posing. The Tax Collector isn’t a failure so much as a non-film. It’s only pretending to be the movie it wants you to think it is.