The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Lowlife is such a wild ride that any cinema showing it might want to consider installing seat belts on their chairs. If you watch it at home on VOD (where it's releasing concurrently), you might want to install them on your couch. Every second is electrifying. Director Ryan Prows makes a confident, stunning feature debut that demands audiences sit up and take notice. If this is how he begins his career, one can only imagine how extraordinary his future films will be.

The movie is a crime story told out of sequence, then tied together at the end. The key character is Teddy (Mark Burnham), a criminal who runs an organ-harvesting ring. The others, who get swept up in it in various manners, are El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a luchador who works as Teddy's muscle; a motel employee named Crystal (Nicki Micheaux) who needs a kidney for her critically ill husband; Keith (Shaye Ogbonna), a former crook gone straight; and Randy (Jon Oswald), a skinhead newly released from prison with an unfortunate swastika tattoo that covers his face.

Lowlife is structured so that we follow a character for a while, then abruptly stop and move to somebody else. During that subsequent person's story, a connection to one of the others is revealed. Discovering the unexpected ways in which they connect provides a sense of excitement and revelation. By the final section, the pieces are all assembled, so that it's clear how tightly these individuals' fates are intertwined. That quality provides nail-biting suspense, as we wait to see who will behave honorably and who will not.

For something like this to work, each separate plot thread has to be able to stand on its own. That's certainly the case here. Some of the specifics of Teddy's heinous operation are shown. El Monstruo goes into blind rages that cause him to black out, then awaken to realize the bloody havoc he's incurred. Crystal not only has a sick husband, but also a daughter with severe problems. She tries valiantly to solve both her loved one's issues. The thread involving Keith and Randy is, to a large degree, the comic relief of Lowlife, as their differing worldviews amusingly clash. Each of these tales is fulfilling in and of itself. When combined, though, they take on increased power.

Aside from its structural strengths, the film is extremely well-acted. The performers create vivid characters who are a pleasure to follow, even when doing less than admirable things. There's not a weak link in the group. The absolute standout, though, is Jon Oswald, who wrings huge laughs out of Randy's alternate annoyance at, and acceptance of, his inconvenient tattoo.

Lowlife is made with great style and flair. Prows knows where to put his camera, how to create atmosphere, and how to incorporate flashes of humor amid the moments that are darker or more violent. Crime movies are a dime a dozen. Finding one that happily, skillfully examines the gray areas of humanity is a lot harder. None of the story's denizens are 100% good or 100% bad. They'll surprise you, and so will the film itself, in the best way possible.

( 1/2 out of four)

Lowlife is unrated, but contains strong language, drug content, and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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