Chop Shop – the Movie

Within the first few frames, this indie movie takes you to a world you didn’t know existed. In the middle of Queens, New York, in the shadow of the Shea Stadium, with views of the Manhattan skyline, is a ramshackle neighborhood of car repair and body shops, called the Iron Triangle. Alejandro, or Ale, as everyone calls him, is a 12-year-old street orphan who has learned to survive.

He is smart, responsible, hardworking, industrious and resourceful. He lives in a plywood room upstairs in a body shop where the owner allows him to be, partly because Ale cleans up, locks the place and is basically a human watchdog twenty-four hours a day. Ale makes money waving customers into the shop, the helps with body work, he sells bootlegged DVDs, peddles candy on the subway and he snatches purses when he has to, all to make a living.

Then his older sister arrives and now he has even more reason for success. He has dreams of making a better life for himself and his sister.

This movie took me to a different world, and the images are so desperate, you keep thinking you’re in Rio de Janeiro, or Nigeria, or Calcutta. But this is New York City. The images are disjointed. You can’t understand their slang half the time, but it does not matter. The images are all in English. Adults, teenagers and children are fighting for survival, frame after frame, and at the end, you wonder what the story was. The movie, as a movie, didn’t work. It just kept stumbling along, and when the credits rolled, I was dissatisfied and ready to give zero stars.

But then, perhaps that was the point, day after day of endless struggle, frame after frame of more of the same desolate images of dirt streets, graffiti covered walls and roll up doors, junk everywhere, the story disconnected. Perhaps that was the message after all?

Rating: **

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