Off Jackson Avenue Dir. John-Luke Montias

[Goltzius Productions; 2009]

Off Jackson Avenue cuts to the chase rapidly, never delaying its storytelling from frame one. Mexican immigrant Olivia (Jessica Pimentel) arrives at JFK to be picked up and taken to her new job as a waitress at a local restaurant in the heart of Queens. As soon as she arrives at the home of her employer, she’s immediately shown the world she’s really been duped into: prostitution. Hitman/English teacher, Tomo (Jun Suenaga), has left his native Japan to complete a contract kill for a Chinese restaurateur while his mother is on her deathbed. Director John Luke-Montias plays the third lead character, Joey, a carjacker looking to go legit with the purchase of a tire shop. Their stories have one character in common: all-around bad guy, Milot (Stivi Paskoski). He is Olivia’s warden and tormentor, Tomo’s intended target, and an obstacle to Joey’s turn from a life of crime to a life of blue collar pride.

Each story speaks volumes about the social and economic groups it portrays; the diverse folks who populate the film are all looking to make ends meet any way they can. Montias’ goal of telling three serious stories against the backdrop of Queens, however, turns each into nothing more than shallow, stereotypical archetypes — and when Montias does try to delve deep into Tomo’s psyche, he comes up with hokey visions of a dead mother. (And Suenaga's stiff, perfunctory performance doesn't help give the character dimension.) If it weren’t for some strong supporting performances by Aya Cash’s Olga (a prostitute who has endured Milot’s brand of perversion and imprisonment for more than a year) and Gene Ruffini’s Uncle Jack (Joey’s seemingly last blood relative and roommate), the stories of Olivia and Joey wouldn’t be worth exploring, either.

Montias is solely to blame for his story’s bland unfolding. His script is a watered-down version of gritty crime dramas. In the midst of his series of stories, the director tries to break up the droll monotony of hardship with dry humor -- shots from Olivia’s perspective of her many johns making orgasm faces; Uncle Jack’s clumsy attack on Joey after finding out he’s back to stealing cars; Tomo’s visions of his mother as she interrupts his attempts to snuff out Milot. Rather than putting Off Jackson Avenue in a class with Amores Perros, this technique transforms an already weak script into a weaker, Monty Python rendition of Detroit 9000. When Olivia, Tomo, and Joey’s paths cross -- predictably, on Jackson Avenue -- at the film’s climax, the ending is too simple and pat. Montias’ homage to Taratino and Iñárritu is a flaccid failure of average acting, its outcome as obvious as the ending of Titanic and Ghandi.

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