The Tax Collector, by Albert W. Vogt III

The last time we saw Shia LaBeouf, it was as the troubled but good hearted Tyler in The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019). I love that movie. Now he is the cold-blooded (but also good-hearted?) killer in The Tax Collector. This movie is perplexing stupid. It is not so because of the decisions made in filming it. I got what they were going for with the elements therein. It is just that either the “protagonist” is the world’s biggest hypocrite, or the people behind the camera were entirely ignorant of what it means to be a true Christian.

Not that you would know what is going on from the opening scene of The Tax Collector. Alexis Cuevas (Cinthya Carmona) wakes up from a nightmare where she sees her children drowning and there is nothing she can do about it. Do not worry. This really is not foreshadowing. When she opens her eyes, she is in the bed she shares with her husband, David Cuevas (Bobby Soto). He is some kind of criminal boss (it is unclear how he got this position, other than his dad did something similar, I guess, and inherited his job), though he leads what is by all appearances a happy home life. They love their children. They pray in the Catholic fashion before meals. And then he goes off to work like any other man supporting his family . . . except his employment involves threatening gangs and various other drug dealers for money. His partner in this endeavor is Creeper (Shia LaBeouf, and that is literally his listed name in the credits). They have this good cop-bad cop routine going on where David makes a veiled threat, sometimes in rather gracious terms, and Creeper stands in the background menacing and waiting for his opportunity to commit violence. I use the word “routine” purposely as for a large part of the beginning you see them going through this over and over and the plot never really gets anywhere. That is until they encounter Conejo (Jose Conjeo Martin) who has decided seemingly out of the blue to challenge David’s power in Los Angeles. Conejo’s threats become increasingly dire. Oddly, though, he decides to try to entice David to his side . . . after decapitating David’s uncle, Louis (George Lopez). When David rightly refuses, Conejo then goes on to gun down all of the young man’s associates, capturing Creeper in the process and torturing him to death. Still, bafflingly, Conejo once more offers David a position because the rival sees David as “smart.” And so Conejo’s next move is to murder Alexis and kidnap his rival’s children. Having no one else to turn to, David asks another gang (the Bloods, I think, I do not really know) to help him get back his children. After he does this, which involves bludgeoning Conejo with a bathroom sink, he calls his father, the Wizard (Jimmy Smits). Oh, by the way, dad is in prison but still has access to a cell phone? Anyway, apparently this had all been a test for David to make sure he was ready for the power he was (already) wielding. We close with David refusing because he does not want that life . . . even though he had been living it for some time by now.

I am critical of The Tax Collector because the main characters (except for Creeper) not only confess a belief in God, but seem to practice it. The Cuevas children even apparently attend a Catholic school. In a scene moments before Alexis’ untimely demise, the whole family kneels down and prays together, asking for protection in the trying moments to come. Now, I am not naive enough to believe that everyone who does these things is some kind of angel, going to Mass every day along with praying the Rosary. But the life that they lead is so out of phase with what they profess as to make it absurd. To his credit, David does admit that the things he does make him a bad person, and he does seem to want to walk away from that life. But this realization does not seem to have any grounding in Faith, or its salvific function. David had these beliefs from the start, and yet he allowed himself to build a criminal empire from which he profited. Alexis was not immune to it either. She seemed to be the one responsible for counting their ill-gained money, and she uses David’s influence to bump a customer ahead of her at a dress store where she was shopping for her daughter’s quinceanera. Had David’s realization come about as a result of a genuine conversation with God, it might have been a little more satisfying to this reviewer.

There are many reasons to avoid The Tax Collector other than its dissatisfying veneer of Faith. It is extremely violent, though I suppose that might go without saying. There were moments where I was laughing when I probably was not meant to, as when David suddenly flashes back, in the middle of his climactic fight with Conejo, to a move he learned in his jiujitsu class . . . which he then fails to use. I was also shocked when, after bursting into a house where his children might have been held, he immediately starts spraying bullets at everyone in the room. Pump the breaks there, Terminator. You might have just machine-gunned your kids. Probably the biggest reason that this one should be avoided is Conejo. Clearly he was the villain, but did he also have to be a satan-worshipper? There were many times where I had to cover my eyes, as when there was a scene involving human sacrifice. That never makes for an enjoyable film experience.

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