Review: Clarity, cohesion elude ‘Strongest Man’


Strongest Man, Terrence Malick, Kenny Riches, Robert Lorie, Lisa Banes, Paul Chamberlain, immigration

With languorous slow-motion montages and soulful voice-over narrations, “The Strongest Man” might seem like an homage to Terrence Malick. But the voice-over is in Spanish and belongs to a vacuous, ignorant lout from Cuba named Beef (Robert Lorie), a menial laborer who helps haul debris out of demolished buildings in Miami.

In his spare time Beef likes to ride his gold BMX bike, hang paintings for his art-collector neighbor, Mrs. Rosen (Lisa Banes), and hang out with his colleague Conan (Paul Chamberlain), an exotic sidekick much like Pedro from “Napoleon Dynamite” but Korean American — even though Beef casually uses a slur designated for those of Chinese descent to describe him in the narration.


Although Beef and Conan are far from stereotypical, the quirkiness and eccentricities ascribed to them by writer-director Kenny Riches harp on their otherness all the same. Given that they are completely unrelatable, the film seems like a patronizing freak show.

Their respective obsessions with BMX biking and collecting trophies provide little insight into them as immigrants, especially since these aren’t quintessential American pastimes that we could use to measure their assimilation. The film renders their ethnicities completely arbitrary, yet it never offers an alternative explanation for the overwhelming sense of alienation they seem to experience.


“The Strongest Man”

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills. Also on VOD.