Apparently “Holy Rollers” was inspired by an actual case that happened in New York in the late 1990s: A drug-smuggling ring deployed a group of young Hasidic Jews to act as “mules” for ferrying Ecstasy from Europe into the United States.
The plan was admittedly a criminally ingenious concept, as the traditional clothing and headgear of these innocent looking youths made them unlikely to be stopped by Customs officials.
One can see the moviemaking possibilities. The main challenge with material such as this is to make the story more than a single-joke idea.
Twenty-year-old Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is living a devout life with his family in Brooklyn. An arranged marriage may link him with an attractive friend, and his studies may lead him to become a rabbi someday.
It would be nice to have a little more money, however. So when his best friend’s older brother (Justin Bartha), a sarcastic type, offers Sam a quick way to travel to Amsterdam and make a thousand bucks, who is Sam to say no?
Especially when the trip will result in “medicine” being made more accessible to people in need in the States. Yes, Sam believes this for a while — he’s not terribly well-versed in the ways of the real world.
From there, of course, things escalate badly, as we knew they would, and the partying habits of Sam’s boss (Danny Abeckaser) and mistress (Ari Graynor) are soon a part of Sam’s life, too.
Because the arc of the story is so easy to predict, director Kevin Asch needs some X-factor to buoy the proceedings. He gets that in Jesse Eisenberg, the kid from “Zombieland” and “Adventureland,” who’s been giving Michael Cera a run for his money in the diffident-hero department.
Eisenberg is very good at projecting earnestness, and he can actually convince us that Sam would be as innocent as he seems — and that the tricky business of navigating the drug-smuggling trade might also appeal to Sam’s business acumen.
The film also has a nice feel for wintry Brooklyn locations, as well as the rituals of Hasidic daily life (the meeting of Sam and his prospective bride is especially amusing).
But ultimately, “Holy Rollers” really is a single-joke idea; that single idea is reasonably well-done, and I’d like to see what Asch comes up with next. But stretched out over 89 minutes, this one gets a little thin.