CHOP SHOP (Ramin Bahrani) Rating: NNN
Chop Shop is a feature that desperately wants to be a documentary. It almost makes it but falls down on the dialogue.
Street kid Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) works at a mechanic's and has a sister (Isamar Gonzales) who gives blow jobs for money and a boss who looks like Anderson Cooper might've if he'd grown up on Skid Row instead of as a Vanderbilt. Alejandro and Isamar want to open a mobile restaurant, but get sold a lemon. In desperation, Alejandro turns to petty crime.
Though the hand-held camera and use of available light contribute to the documentary feel, the non-professional performances make us realize how hard the pros work to make their acting look natural. Polanco and Gonzales are as raw as the filmmaking, but their speech lacks all the hems and haws inherent in real conversation, and so feels as artificial as the most stylized, Mamet-esque dialogue.
Where writer-director Ramin Bahrani does succeed, however, is in making the borough of Queens look as foreign to the North American eye as the slums of South America. Here's hoping next time he hires a writer and keeps his focus on the camera.
Chop Shop screens Saturday (December 1) at Innis Town Hall as part of the Diaspora Film Fest.