CAPSULE: Three (or more) crime stories intersect each other in this tale set in Queens, New York's underbelly. A Mexican immigrant is forced into sexual slavery; an unreadable Japanese hit man prepares for killing; a car thief tries to steal enough to buy himself a legitimate business. The film makes a slow and grim build to a suspenseful third act. Newcomer writer/director/actor John-Luke Montias (in his second feature film) shows us several faces of crime. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Three contiguous stories of different sorts of crime unfold simultaneously and finally tie together. Olivia (played by Jessica Pimentel) has been lured to Queens from Oaxaca, Mexico with promises of a job was a waitress in a new restaurant. Instead she has her passport taken from her and is brutally forced into sexual slavery. Her first day is shown in harrowing detail. But she is determined she will get herself out of the predicament. Meanwhile hit-man Tomo (Jun Suenaga) has been brought to Queens from Japan to eliminate a client's business competitor. His Chinese client and the client's family are clearly impressed by Tomo's cold professionalism. But under the façade Tomo is a mother-obsessed English teacher in Japan. Tomo supplements his meager income as a contract killer. And he is not adapting well to the United States. Thirdly there is Joey (played by the film's writer director John-Luke Montias). Joey desperately wants respectability. He has a tire shop that he intends to buy just as soon as he can steal enough cars to earn the $100,000 to buy the shop. But Joey just does not have the kind of mind that can make it all work.
The film is shot on a low budget with no familiar faces. But that gives the film more of a realistic and almost documentary feel. A standout performance comes from Stivi Paskoski as Milot, the vicious Albanian pimp who keeps the women in line at the bordello house. It is Milot who gives the film most of its dramatic tension. He has frightened the more experienced girls into a docile compliance almost more frightening than Milot himself. Meanwhile Tomo keeps track of his ailing mother back home with a fixation that is keeping him from performing is hit. And Joey spars with his uncle who shares Joey's home and undermines the thief's confidence.
The film has a disturbing, if fascinating, first half. But Montias lightens the tone in the second half of the film, particularly with his own character. His Joey proves that car theft is not glamorous like it appears in the movies. And the main character of each story struggles to win the approval of a family member who is not about to give it.
Montias does not balance the stories evenly, not that that is really necessary. The story of Olivia really takes center stage. It is the main story and Tomo and Joey really get secondary status. It is as if Montias is really telling that story, but it was not too short a story to fill the film.
While OFF JACKSON AVENUE has that uncomfortable first half, once the film gets going it is compelling, with the story of Olivia doing most of the compelling. Finally it builds to a satisfying and almost funny dénouement with a cleverly intricate sequence involving all of the primary characters of the plot. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
OFF JACKSON AVENUE opens at the Quad Cinema in New York July 17.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1016083/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/off_jackson_avenue/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper