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‘Lowriders’ review: Superficial look at East LA’s Hispanic car culture

Gabriel Chavarria and Melissa Benoist star in "Lowriders."

Gabriel Chavarria and Melissa Benoist star in "Lowriders." Credit: Justin M. Lubin

PLOT In East Los Angeles, a young street artist struggles to understand his old-school father.

CAST Gabriel Chavarria, Demian Bichir, Melissa Benoist, Eva Longoria

RATED PG-13 (some adult themes)


PLAYING AT Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, AMC Loews Raceway 10

BOTTOM LINE A well-intentioned but superficial story about a deep-rooted Hispanic subculture.

Quick, name a major Hollywood movie about Hispanic-American youth culture. There hasn’t really been one since the suspiciously light-skinned “West Side Story” in 1961, unless you count 1990’s “Lambada” (and you shouldn’t). Aside from biopics on Ritchie Valens, Tejano star Selena and others, there have been few if any teen flicks aimed directly at Latinos. That’s quite an oversight, given that they’re among the most frequent moviegoers in America.

Enter “Lowriders,” directed by Ricardo de Montreuil. Set in East Los Angeles, the movie attempts to do for Hispanic car culture what “Beat Street” and “Breakin’ ” did for African-American hip-hop in the 1980s. “Lowriders” is every bit as hokey as those quaint time capsules but, sad to say, not nearly as endearing or engaging. “Lowriders” feels like an outsider’s view of an insider’s culture.

Our entree into East L.A. is Danny Alvarez (Gabriel Chavarria), a cocky kid who would rather decorate overpasses with graffiti murals than help out at the old-school auto shop owned by his father, Miguel (Demian Bichir). Danny has a grudging respect for his father’s art — low-slung cars with pristine paint jobs and springy hydraulics — but Miguel can’t return the compliment. The generational shift is interesting: At one point in time, the kid would have been the car-crazy one.

The film’s thin plot involves a big car show, of course, and a monkey wrench in the form of Francisco (Theo Rossi), Danny’s black sheep brother. Fresh out of prison and filled with rage for his father, Francisco forms a competing car club and will stop at nothing to win. Meanwhile, Danny canoodles with Lorelei (Melissa Benoist), an art-world punkette who thinks she may have found the next Banksy.

Where the movie truly stumbles is in Danny’s narration. He’s constantly explaining lowrider culture with the breathless tone of a reality-show host. “It’s about half a dozen of the world’s most elite cars in one room,” Danny says of the climactic international expo called Big Chele. “Lowriders” wants to drop us inside a vibrant world, but it often does the opposite. The more the movie treats us like tourists, the further away we feel.

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