Despite what you may think, "Holy Rollers" isn't about grandmas heading to Pentecostal church bingo, nor does it have anything to do with a virginal roller derby team. It's actually the true story of young Hassidic Jews who smuggled Ecstasy from Amsterdam to Brooklyn in the late 1990s.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Sam Gold, a good Jewish boy studying to be a rabbi and awaiting approval for his arranged marriage. But when he's rejected by the family of his would-be bride for what he thinks are financial shortcomings, he allows himself to be sucked over to the dark side by his neighbor, Yosef ("The Hangover" star Justin Bartha), who has ties to an Israeli drug cartel. Told to "mind your business and act Jewish," Sam finds his religion to be the perfect cover for an unsuspected drug runner in the middle of a major crisis of faith.
Director Kevin Asch has created a story that feels like a lighter amalgam of "Kids" and "The Believer." Or maybe it’s "A Serious Man" and "Blow." That is to say, there's a great deal of familiarity to screenwriter Antonio Macia's story and Asch's delivery, but enriched by compelling performances, "Holy Rollers" is nonetheless engrossing.
Eisenberg, demonstrating more grounding and authority than he has in any previous role, is a captivating lead as we watch his conflicted transition, from pious and pure to willingly corrupted. Up and comer Ari Graynor, who Entertainment Weekly knighted one of the 25 funniest women in Hollywood after just one role ("Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"), gives the requisite harpy dreamgirl role a refreshing twist that’s hints at a sex kitten homage to early Michelle Pfeiffer (both "Scarface" and "Grease 2"). Bartha, however, is the film's main attraction, relishing his time on screen and making Yosef a slowly unraveling live wire who's as likely to kiss you as flick a smoldering cigarette at your head.
Although the film raises questions of religion and imperviousness, more than anything, it's a study in escalated adolescence and some of the best work several of these actors have done despite a lackluster script.
"Holy Rollers" opens May 21.