A sleepy earnestness both ennobles and afflicts Ricardo de Montreuil's fathers-and-sons story, Lowriders. At first the film plays as a low-key corrective, a Hollywood drama with name producers (Brian Grazer, Jason Blum) that, outside a couple of tutorial info-dumps covering cultural basics, presents East Los Angeles lives like pretty much any of the others we've always seen on multiplex screens.
The problems facing dreamy muralist and tagger Danny Alvarez (Gabriel Chavarria) line up with the problems facing generations of coming-of-age-movie heroes: His dad prefers he give up his art and go into the family business. His brother hates his dad and tries to get Danny to take a side.
The dynastic drama here centers on a sweet '69 Impala, candy green and riding so low you couldn't slip a slice of American cheese between its fender and the pavement. "It's your heritage!" insists Danny's father, Miguel (Demian Bichir), a recovering alcoholic who runs a garage and ranks in lowrider competitions in Elysian Park.
Each of the three men tends to a car over the course of the film, and each somehow still manages to bounce on its hydraulics despite being freighted with symbolism. Miguel's ride comes painted with an old family mural on its hood. Prodigal son Francisco (Theo Rossi) has just returned from prison, where he was serving time for stealing parts for his own competition car. And Danny eventually will refurbish a junked '36 Chevy, his work something like what the screenwriters have done: making something new and personal out of the oldest of frames. Still, sometimes it's hokey, and the close-up, quick-cut filmmaking is often at odds with the performances.