The Tax Collector Review
David (Bobby Soto) and Creeper (Shia LaBeouf) are tax collectors. Not very good ones as it transpires. When an old rival of their boss returns to Los Angeles and undermines the business David turns to desperate measures to protect his family.
If you’ve seen the trailer for The Tax Collector and you’re looking forward to a twist on the buddy cop formula, prepare to be disappointed. The idea that there are tooled up accountants scraping the criminal proceeds sounds like fun but that premise is never explored and, by the lamentable third act, it's descended into the usual clichéd righteous retribution nonsense.
Anyone looking forward to a superb performance by Shia Labeouf, will only get half of one, I’m afraid. He’s only in David Ayer’s film long enough for you to wish he was in it more and, for some unfathomable reason, he’s benched halfway through. He’s a force of pent-up sadistic energy that’s left impotent and quite literally substituted. Still, at least he’s treated better than the two kids who are basically MacGuffins that need feeding occasionally. And still better than the wife; a character there to simply be in peril and nothing more. The less said about the villainous dominatrix the better. I thought we’d moved on from the toxic masculinity of the 1990s.
The Tax Collector is a diversion for 90-odd minutes if you’re bored enough. The premise is a weird idea that doesn’t bear scrutiny but would have worked if tackled full-blooded. And there are a couple of superb action set-pieces (though contrarily, a lot of the film is poorly edited, noticeably so) but we live in a post-Safdie Brothers world. Uncut Gems is merely a click away and someone of David Ayer’s reputation should be doing better than this. There’s a sense he’s trying to recapture the cheesy energy of The Fast and Furious script he co-wrote but that worked by being a remake of Point Break and capturing a vein of sentimentality that left you rooting for the Toretto criminal family as if they were modern Robin Hoods. This privileged lot pout while profiteering from LA gangs.
David is hard to sympathise with and tin-eared. He taxes bad guys and uses Creeper to handle the violence so he can claim to be a doting father and husband. He is not arrogant but the idea he can keep his two worlds separate seems naive and even offensive. The Michael Corleone angle is ambitious for a modest run-time cluttered with clichés, especially handled without a shred of irony. He doesn’t earn the hand-wringing when Karma catches up with him.
It doesn’t help that, aside from LaBeouf, the cast ranges from passable to Kardashian reality show quality. LaBeouf visibly lifts their performance; he cuts an unlikely figure but sells the character and gives the film a boost in every scene he is in. So again, it seems perverse to not let him do more.
How does David Ayer keep attracting actors of such calibre despite a run of poor films before and since screwing up Suicide Squad? Some years ago he gave Keanu Reeves a career best performance in Street Kings, an otherwise weak film. More recently, Bright looked like an interesting role for Will Smith and floundered. Now Shia LaBeouf also has the dubious honour of a role to be proud of, lost in a clunky mess of a film.
The Tax Collector is released in selected US cinemas and on VOD from August 7.