Movie Review: A Mexican-Punjabi crime alliance entangles “The Scrapper”

Here’s a peek into a world few Americans knew existed, a thriller built out of the cultural connection between two immigrant communities bonded by the racism each faced because “we were all brown.”

Writer/director/star Bari Kang‘s “The Scrapper” envisions a crime connection between Punjabi (often Sikh) human traffickers and Mexican drug cartels as an outgrowth of relationship dates back to the America of the early 1900s.

But despite having that novelty as a hook, the film he got out of all that is a formulaic slog, almost undistinguishable from any other indie thriller saddled with weak performances.

Kang stars as Jake, a metal scrapper who does salvage work as a job fresh out of prison. He and wife Kitt (Ava Paloma) have a baby on the way, and his hulking, mentally-challenged older brother JB (Gugun Deep Singh) lives with them, meaning money’s tight.

But Jake won’t relent and go back to work in the New York family scrapyard and trucking business his sister Linda (Allison Thomas Lee) now runs, because he’s all about going clean and they’re not. Like every “pull me back in” mob thriller ever made, events conspire to change Jake’s mind.

A new cartel heavy (Andhy Méndez) is throwing his weight around, and calling old debts in. Linda, who has been money laundering and the like for the cartel, has days to come up with an impossible sum.

So when a Sikh underling spies a big cash handoff between the Mexican mob and the Punjabi mob (Samrat Chakrabarti, Anil Kumar), Linda sees a chance to get out of their hole and lures safecracking ex-con Jake back in.

That burglary goes just wrong enough to start the bloodshed and upend every life wrapped up in this world.

The early scenes in Kang’s second indie crime feature — “Lucky” was the first — are static and dull, with the charisma-starved performances to match. Chakrabarti, whose son of a Punjabi mob boss is also passed off as a cop, has some real menace about him. Kang comes off as credibly blue collar, but “soft” in a crime film sense. And Mendez is saddled with an empty caricature of a character who smacks his lips and unloads long patches of exposition.

“You Punjabis fascinate me,” his Frankie pontificates. “You bring our drugs across the border, but you don’t sell them. You offer your own people a ‘new life’ in this country, only to enslave and abuse them.”

Yeah. And your point is?

The story’s too-predictable arc plays as a slower-than-slow set-up for a finale that’s bloody and at least a bit more exciting, if no more interesting, than what’s preceded it.

Kang’s unique gift to the cinema is in providing an entre to this Indo-Mexican-American world. We see the Sikh Khanda tattoo on Jake’s wrist, and watch his accomplice leave his kirpan behind lest their burglary turn into “armed robbery.” “Scrapper” gives us glimpses of Sikh culture and “code” — which somehow allows wriggle room for the Sikhs mixed in with the Punjabi mob’s wrongdoing. We duck into a New York Punjabi nightclub and later into a Sikh temple.

This could have been a B-movie of the “Eastern Promises” variety, America crime given a new twist via an under-represented (on film) immigrant class, with details that leave the viewer fascinated and appalled.

But the details here are confined to those “glimpses.” There are potential “our cuisine” meal scenes that never happen. The pace is mimicked by the unhurried lack of urgency in almost every scene. When a movie’s this slow, every moment of foreshadowing is underlined and notarized. Yes, we noticed the nail gun, thanks.

And the performances lack that pop that makes even an over-familiar plot play. Kang might have “hard ex-con” in him. But the director — him — doesn’t give him the closeups where he grits his teeth to do what a hard man’s gotta do. The script leaves out any interior life.

Instead, Jake tells us a little family history and Punjabi/Mexican history in voice-over and in married life “explainer” scenes at home.

That’s “The Scrapper” in a nutshell, a movie that tells us instead of showing us, that checks off waypoints on its played-out crime story journey, with almost everybody in it blank-faced and perfunctory as they recite all those explanations along the way.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Bari Kang, Ava Paloma, Allison Thomas Lee, Gugun Deep Singh, Samrat Chakrabarti, Anil Kumar and Andhy Méndez.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Bari Kang. A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:26

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.