Director Kevin Asch uses the template set out by rise-and-fall crime movies such as a Scarface and Goodfellas to weave an entertaining story based on real events. The late '90s saw Hasidic Jews recruited as drug mules and, due to their appearance, they were never stopped at airports because nobody suspected a thing. It's an intriguing set-up and a test of faith for Sam, but the movie never quite finds its footing or completely decides what it wants to be.
Holy Rollers' strength also happens to be one of the things holding it back. It's committed to being low-key and understated, refusing to glamourise Sam's involvement in the drug cartel. This, however, often translates to a lack of excitement on screen. It could be the low budget and the filmmakers not wanting to betray their indie roots, but the thrill and rush of these illicit dealings are almost completely absent from the movie. It's left to Jesse Eisenberg and his co-stars to shoulder the movie and keep it afloat as a character piece. Bartha, Ari Graynor and Danny A. Abeckaser are particularly impressive in supporting roles.
The film's humour is dry and maybe not as obvious as you'd expect considering the situations, but Eisenberg is terrific and more than capable of keeping the whole venture cruising along. Filmed before his winning portrayal of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Holy Rollers again demonstrates the actor's ability to add depth and complexity to characters of a certain 'type'. His Sam is unassuming, insecure and distant - yet Eisenberg is able to make you empathise with him. A trick he pulled off with aplomb in Adventureland.
Holy Rollers promises much but its execution is a little bit too laid-back, meaning that it often underwhelms at points when it really should be grabbing your attention. It is man of the moment Eisenberg, though, who keeps you invested and with it throughout.