PLOT: Young man goes wrong in '90s Williamsburg, as part of a real-life drug-running operation that used Hasidim as mules.
BOTTOM LINE: Compelling, true-life saga, even if Eisenberg wanders through the film looking like a confused Irish setter.
CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Mark Ivanir
Somewhere between Genesis and "GoodFellas" lies "Holy Rollers," a ripped-from-the-Clinton-era-headlines tale about Brooklyn Hasidim recruited to run ecstasy into the United States. They were apparently pretty successful: In a postscript, Kevin Asch's moral parable tells us that the less-than-Orthodox drug mules smuggled in 1 million hits. That's a lot of delirium, and a lot of gelt.
The story focuses on Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg), a devout, by-the-book Hasid who works for his fabric salesman father (the terrific Mark Ivanir) and whose hopes for marriage are shattered when his family isn't less-than-prosperous enough for his prospective bride. The crushed, money-obsessed Sam is therefore ripe for recruitment by his rebellious neighbor Yosef (Justin Bartha), a key player in a global drug-running operation involving naive-looking Hasidim. "Be calm," he tells Sam. "And act Jewish."
As caper movies go, "Holy Rollers" gets a lot of traction out of its off-center subject and Asch's crisp direction. It's also a movie that fits a certain genre: Like so many gangster fables, "Holy Rollers" is about assimilation through crime - the outsider abandoning the familiar and moral for something dangerously attractive, but morally perfidious.
Is this a metaphor for America itself? That may be giving too much credit to the film, which is really about Sam - and thus becomes a vehicle for Eisenberg, an actor who is making a career out of playing the same uncertain, adolescent nebbish every time we see him. He wears out his welcome very early on. Bartha is good, though, as is Ari Graynor, who plays the bad girl Rachel, and Danny Abeckaser, whose character, the dangerous Jackie, is the Israeli macher behind the whole dirty operation.