Though tricked out, bouncing vintage cars are a staple of ’90s rap videos, “Lowriders” uses them to tell a current family story of grief, loss and redemption.
Our hero is Danny (Gabriel Chavarria), a young man from East Los Angeles just setting out on his adult life. He’s a street artist, leaving his graffiti tag on any available piece of the city he can find. He has a tough relationship with his stern father, auto shop owner Miguel (Demian Bichir), and is reckoning with the return of his brother Francisco “Ghost” (Theo Rossi) upon his release from prison.
While director Ricardo de Montreuil follows some traditional family drama blueprints and formulas, his film excels in its depiction of the Los Angeles of 2017. Danny and his pals embrace the multi-ethnic and diverse world of the city, from their Boyle Heights homes to Koreatown to punk shows to taco trucks.
His father and older brother locate their sense of self in the Latino car culture and neighborhoods that have been shaped by immigration, an increased police force and in their ethnic identity. As Danny explains in narration, lowriding was once outlawed, so Latino car clubs learned to use hydraulics to lift and lower their vehicles. The cars became outlets for creative self-expression and the competitions a point of pride.
With a stronger focus on the cars themselves, this film could have been akin to the first “Fast and the Furious” movie, exploring an automotive subculture. But the script leans so heavily on the father-son drama among Miguel, Danny and Ghost that it’s far more about family than cars. Here, the cars symbolize the family cracking apart or coming together.
Unfortunately, “Lowriders” is too formulaic and predictable to leave much of an impact. The lead performances are strong, and the film is a fine breakout leading role for the charismatic Chavarria. But the standard issue story and themes are routine at best.
(At Merriam, Studio 28.)
Rated PG-13 for language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use.