Back in the late '90s, a ring of Brooklyn, NY-based Hasidic Jews were involved in an ecstasy smuggling ring that brought an estimated million tablets into the U.S. This is a fact utilized for the fictionalization of this conservative morality play about greed and ethics, with a glimpse at religious tradition, for good measure. It's an appropriate thematic vein, contextually, but it's all a little tired and prosaic in the end, given the many similar parables about good people giving in to temptation.
Featuring rising star Jesse Eisenberg as Sam Gold, a young Orthodox Jew on the potential path to being a Rabbi, Holy Rollers details his religious life at home, with the possibility of an impending arranged marriage. It's here where the film proves most fascinating, taking a voyeuristic approach to the quotidian of a cloistered sect, handling with a removed, faux-vérité handheld aesthetic that promises a look into a specific world.
This doesn't last, however, as Sam is quickly ushered into the life as a drug mule — smuggling "medicine" from Europe for rich people — by his less traditional neighbour Yosef (Justin Bartha). From here on out this soapbox yarn waxes predictable every step of the way, with Eisenberg sharply transitioning from naïve and awkward to smug and self-righteous the further he delves into this seedy underworld.
Indeed, the young actor handles the role with maturity, even if his character falls into cliché after cliché, talking back to his drug lord boss Jackie (Danny A. Abeckaser) when not flirting with the man's girlfriend Rachel (Ari Graynor). He receives requisite warnings from his family and religious sect, but of course, ignores them for the lure of instant gratification and pipe dreams.
On the technical front, there is nothing ostensibly wrong, with the story clipping along at a nice pace, hitting all the right notes. But ultimately, Holy Rollers is little more than an example of how competent filmmaking skills and underplayed performances can't save a stale, preachy narrative. (VSC)