The Bill Collector
Reviewers always have privileged access to films and filmmakers—and usually at PtP, our full-disclosure statement follows our reviews.
But for my review of The Bill Collector, an enjoyably light romp about an irresponsible rogue who gets a chance to reform, I’m afraid my disclaimers must come up front.
The Bill Collector is directed by Cristóbal Krusen, whom I have known since 2003 after running into him at a Christian Booksellers Association meeting in Orlando. Cris was on hand promoting his fine apartheid film Final Solution, which I had reviewed for Hollywood Jesus earlier that year, and I was on hand promoting my first book, Tolkien in Perspective.
Cris and I hit it off immediately and stayed in touch over the years. Jenn and I edited and published a collection of his letters in Let Me Have My Son, and I’ve been an informal script consultant for Cris on several projects, including The Bill Collector. For the last year or so, Cris and his producing partner Doug Maddox have also been assisting me with development of a screenplay treatment for my novel West of the Gospel.
So gosh, yes, I’m biased when it comes to Cris and his films. The good news for readers is that I’m telling you about it all up front; the bad news for Cris is that I’m typically harder on films when I know I’m reviewing material about which I am likely biased!
The better news, all the way around, is that The Bill Collector is consistently entertaining, even when it dips into the come-to-Jesus moments that typify most PureFlix releases. At the heart of it all is an engaging performance by Gary Moore as Lorenzo Adams, a collection agency star who’s so effective only because he knows a thing or two (or three or four) about recalcitrant debtors. He’s in fact on an East Coast lam from the West Coast, where he ducked out on a $50K failed-business debt. When he encounters an associate of his old loan shark at a clandestine poker game, the stage is set for his comeuppance.
Enter “Uncle Frankie” and his goons. Lorenzo is given a couple weeks to come up with $150K to save his hide—and to ensure that Lorenzo doesn’t skip town a second time, Frankie leaves behind his primary enforcer, Omar. When it becomes obvious that Omar can’t be ditched, Lorenzo settles on a creative (and amusingly-staged) scam to embezzle the needed funds from his employer. Lorenzo’s vacationing boss Stan unwittingly cautions, “Don’t overfeed the fish,” and the line gleefully evokes many a gangland film staple while setting up a fine nightmare/rebirth-metaphor sequence later on.
Because this is a comedic film about a loser’s redemption, you can guess ahead of time that Lorenzo’s danger will never be terribly palpable, that Frankie and his bunch won’t exactly be something out of a real-world-scary, foul-mouthed Scorsese flick, and that Lorenzo’s salvation comes in pretty explicit form.
What I didn’t expect was that Cris would pull off the light comedic tone of the film as effectively as he did. There’s nothing in his oeuvre, after all, to suggest that comedy is a forte for him—yet even the most problematic (and admittedly contrived) scene for a comedy, Lorenzo’s violent deliverance via deus ex machina, fails to derail the tenor of the overall piece. This is again thanks in large part to Moore’s likable energy as Lorenzo, and also to the affability of Cris’ son David as Omar, the “gentle giant” whom Jesus gets to before dragging down the wilfull Lorenzo.
In early drafts of the script, Omar was in fact called “David” as Cris clearly crafted the role of Omar specifically for his own learning-disabled son. And David Krusen, in his screen acting debut, handles the role with towering aplomb, if not studied elegance. When Omar settles into cooking, eating, playing hand-held computer games, or playing the piano, we’re actually getting a look into the heart of David Krusen himself, something that Cris knows a good bit about and something that we’re glad we get to see, too. Cris knew that David would come through for him here.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see Cris cast himself in a delightful supporting role, another first for the director. In addition, Associate Producer and Hollywood Jesus colleague Matt Kinne makes an appearance in a minor speaking role.
While this is not a film that will make my year’s best-of list, I very much enjoyed it—and suspect most people who rent or buy it will, too. With the aid of another wonderful score and typically attractive camera work—one of Cris’ strengths as a filmmaker is his overall aesthetic sense—The Bill Collector provides gentle laughs and a chance to remember that, through the power of God’s Spirit, a leopard can indeed change its spots. With God, all things are possible.
And while I initially had a hard time envisioning a Cris Krusen film as a PureFlix release, it’s just the right distribution choice for The Bill Collector—and one that raises the bar a little for PureFlix in the process.
The Bill Collector is unrated. Due to the film’s climactic violence, I’d say this would probably get a PG. But don’t get the idea this is a family film! I can’t imagine kids would have much interest in Lorenzo as a protagonist… though there’s a good possibility that Omar and some of the cartoonish action might keep them hooked while Mom and Dad enjoy an evening on the couch together.
Courtesy of the film’s producer and distributor, Greg screened a promotional DVD of The Bill Collector.