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Review: ‘Lowlife’ puts some fresh touches on a Tarantino-esque story

Jon Oswald, left, as Randy, and Shaye Ogbonna as Keith in Ryan Prows' "Lowlife."
Jon Oswald, left, as Randy, and Shaye Ogbonna as Keith in Ryan Prows’ “Lowlife.”
(IFC Midnight)

For their knotty indie crime drama “Lowlife,” writer-director Ryan Prows and his four credited co-screenwriters revive the lost art of the Quentin Tarantino ripoff. Though their gimmicky narrative structure doesn’t amount to much, it’s more entertaining than an unkinked “Lowlife” would’ve been.

The marvelously ornery Mark Burnham stars as Teddy “Bear” Haynes, a Los Angeles crime boss who uses addicts and immigrants in the country illegally to stock his human-trafficking and organ-harvesting businesses. “Lowlife” has a prologue and four chapters — with overlapping time frames — telling stories about the lives Haynes has ruined.

Those victims include: motel owner Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), whose alcoholic husband needs a kidney; El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a luchador who tries to be a hero to the needy while working as Haynes’ muscle; and Keith (Shaye Ogbanna), a white-collar criminal who gets dragged into one of the boss’ schemes, and asks for help from his ex-con pal Randy (Jon Oswald).

Randy — a nice guy with a prison-gang-mandated swastika tattoo on his face — provides much of the comic relief, just as Crystal brings the gritty tragedy, and El Monstruo plays the comic book hero, complete with his own theme song.

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The tangled plot is ultimately too simple, and the film’s sociopolitical commentary too paltry. But “Lowlife” does have a refreshingly varied and up-to-date cast of characters. With seedy B-movies, just a little bit of ambition elevates the generic.

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‘Lowlife’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Arena CineLounge, Hollywood


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