Yosef (Justin Bartha, left) eases Sam (Jesse Eisenberg) into drug trafficking in Holy Rollers.
Yosef (Justin Bartha, left) eases Sam (Jesse Eisenberg) into drug trafficking in Holy Rollers.

[UPDATED:] Meet the Director of the Best Hasdic Jew Pill Pusher Movie Out There

UPDATE: See details about the "Holy Rollers" article that likely spurred the Holy Rollers movie--and the article's zero degrees of separation from OC Weekly--after the jump . . .

Yosef (Justin Bartha, left) eases Sam (Jesse Eisenberg) into drug trafficking in Holy Rollers.
Yosef (Justin Bartha, left) eases Sam (Jesse Eisenberg) into drug trafficking in Holy Rollers.

Director Kevin Asch, whose Holy Rollers premiered at Sundance and screened again at last month's Newport Beach Film Festival, takes audience questions about his Hasidic Jew pill pusher drama after Saturday's 7 p.m. screening at Edwards University in Irvine.

"Inspired by actual events," Holy Rollers stars Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, Adventureland, The Squid and the Whale) as Sam Gold, a young Hasid who is tricked into smuggling ecstasy into New York from Amsterdam by his Brooklyn neighbor Yosef Zimmerman (Justin Bartha).

By the time Sam discovers what he's into, he's ventured too far away from the life set out by his rabbi, as well as his overbearing father (Mark Ivanir)--and the lad's drawn too close to thrills supplied by the wisecracking Yosef, their Israeli drug dealer boss Jackie Solomon (Danny A. Abeckaser) and especially Jackie's lost girlfriend Rachel (Ari Graynor).

Eventually spurned by his family, missing his faith and confronted with the danger of the drug underworld, Sam must choose which life to throw away.

Eisenberg delivers another outstanding performance, further solidifying his rep as the dramatic answer to his comedic geek god counterpart, Michael Cera.

However, the real surprise here is Bartha, who as an Orthodox Jew gone bad is much looser in his skin than the missing-groom stiff he played The Hangover.

Abeckaser, who until now has had mostly bit parts in films like You Don't Mess With the Zohan, The Education of Charlie Banks and Alpha Dog, is also a find, seething with a combination of magnetism and menace like the best movie drug kingpins.

Also one of the film's producers, Abeckaser got the idea for the film after seeing a news report about an Israeli drug dealer who used Hasidic Jews as couriers to smuggle ecstasy from Europe to the U.S. in the late 1990s. (Antonio Macia wrote the screenplay.)

UPDATE: The Miami New Times, which like OC Weekly is under the Village Voice Media umbrella, in September 2009 1999 published the cover feature "Holy Rollers: To keep X-craved Miami Beach raving, Hasidic teenagers smuggled in pills by the hundreds of thousands." The author of that piece? Ted Kissell, who went on to become OC Weekly's editor. Asked what he thought about a feature film now hitting cineplexes that shares the same title and subject matter as his story, Kissell told Clockwork: "Ain't that something?"

Following Hasidic Jew mules is an original take for a movie on international drug smuggling. But the biggest problem I had with Holy Rollers was how unoriginal it ultimately was. Sheltered young men enticed by the exciting drug underworld has been played countless times before. What happens to Sam we've already seen happen on the big screen, it's just this guy has curly sideburns.

However, there are worse ways to spend 89 minutes, and the filmmaker will be on hand to tell you how full of chara criticism like mine is. You must attend the screening to take part in the Q&A with Asch, and advanced tickets are recommended for Saturday night's show.

Holy Rollers actually opens Friday in the moviehouse across from UCI in the University Town Center, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine.


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