September 18, 2020

‘Tax Collector’ Tops Weekend Box Office And (Most) VOD Charts


Four years ago, almost to the day, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad opened amid scathing reviews and reports of almost absurd behind-the-scenes melodrama, including Warner Bros. reacting to the mixed reception of Batman v Superman by essentially letting the company that cut the first crowd-pleasing theatrical trailer for Suicide Squad have a hand in cutting the final film itself. Nonetheless, the DC Films flick opened with $133 million and, despite a 67% second-weekend drop, legged out to $325 million domestic and (without a penny from China) $745 million worldwide. Ayer took his licks and (at the time) didn’t try to blame the studio, going on to make a big-budget Netflix
NFLX
original starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton.

Bright also debuted amid scathing reviews, and that screenwriter Max Landis was on the verge of being “outed” as an alleged sexual predator didn’t help, but the presence of Will Smith and the whole “Training Day meets Lord of the Rings” crime plot was enough to get folks to sample the film in large enough numbers to justify (in theory) a sequel. After two… challenging turns in the realm of fantasy blockbuster cinema, Ayer has returned to his bread-and-butter, grimdark crime melodramas focused on street crime, street gangs and an emphasis on Latinx culture. Reviews are little better this time, but The Tax Collector is, to the extent we can judge at the moment, a genuine success.

It topped the box office and many of the VOD charts this weekend. I won’t say for certain that it was this weekend’s “most watched movie,” since it’s plausible that more folks watched the big streaming titles (Seth Rogen’s terrific American Pickle on HBO Max, the poignant Howard Ashman documentary Howard on Disney+ and Sabrina Carpenter’s Work It on Netflix). But The Tax Collector earned $317,000 in 129 theaters this weekend (a terrific 3.33x weekend multiplier), good enough to knock The Rental (which has now grossed $1.1 million) out of the top spot. It’s currently the top-ranked movie on Google, the top movie on iTunes and second in revenue behind the $20-a-pop The Secret: Dare to Dream on FandangoNow.

Among the top movies on Amazon at the moment (a chart that is again dominated by episodes of Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone), The Tax Collector sits behind the PVOD release of The Secret Garden, The Greatest Showman, Trolls: World Tour and, uh, Red 2. With around $1 million in VOD earnings thus far, this isn’t necessarily a surprise as it’s the most high-profile VOD title of the weekend, it has a (relatively speaking) marquee director playing on his home turf and features another outside-the-box character turn from Shia LaBeouf. Contrary to some weird criticisms out there, he’s A) very much a supporting character and B) playing a white guy, not a Hispanic character.

At worst, his character is just a non-Hispanic who grew up in the environment and adopted certain mannerisms and attitudes. At best, he’s not unlike Rafael Casal’s character in Blindspotting as a white man who essentially (in this case) roleplays the part of a “bad hombre” while implicitly using his skin color as a shield.  Save for the film’s main antagonist, LaBeouf’s “Creeper” is the only character who acts in a somewhat theatrically stereotypical manner, which is either directorial restraint or social commentary. As for the movie on the whole, it’s fine. It’s visually dynamic, surprisingly patient in terms of establishing plot and character before the bullets start flying and almost (save for a few beats) restrained in its third-act carnage.

Bobby Soto (who allegedly helped Ayer with the screenplay) is clearly relishing playing a somewhat classical leading man anti-hero in a film very much playing in the same genre as The Godfather or Scarface. And, amusingly enough, for all the talk over the last two weeks about Ayer’s filmography in relation to how they view police officers as necessary evils in a war against the truly diabolical (which, to be fair, is generally how action movies used to play before we expected morally clean superheroes to save the day), there’s little-to-no police presence in The Tax Collector. Budget, running time and ambition notwithstanding, it’s trying to be a classic organized crime melodrama. That it merely settles for pulpy B-movie entertainment is no crime.

Does the movie break new ground? Nope. It’s certainly not the first crime flick about a loving family man who thinks he can keep his two worlds separate only to have them violently collide. Will it play great to those with heightened sensitivities to negative onscreen portrayals of ethnic minorities in pop culture? Nope, and if that’s a deal breaker so be it but (in total seriousness) Dora and the Lost City of Gold is on Hulu and Amazon as we speak and it’s pretty great. But in a vacuum, The Tax Collector looks great, contains some sharp turns, including an against-type performance from George Lopez and delivers decent action set pieces and violent showdowns.

What it reminded me of are the slew of direct-to-DVD movies I once had to watch for work-related reasons, lower-budget genre flicks starring and directed targeted at various “not a white guy” demographics. Those are the films, to say nothing of more mainstream theatrical flicks like The Wood or How Stella Got Her Groove Back, that became an endangered species for a generation once the DVD boom ended. Those films had at least some demographic value, especially as everything else was being phased out by Hollywood in favor of “young white guy discovers he’s the special” big-budget fantasy action franchise tentpoles. Judging by its initial success, it would appear that The Tax Collector is reaching its intended audience.



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