Cars could easily have been the stars of “Lowriders,” but the film makes them supporting players in a family drama that’s a mix of strong scenes and shopworn ones punctuated by clichés. The story has a boilerplate quality to it — father with a drinking problem; a pair of polar-opposite brothers — yet a standout performance by Theo Rossi (“Sons of Anarchy”) as the black sheep of the family overcomes a lot of the film’s flaws.
The title refers to the car culture that took hold among Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles and elsewhere, centered on custom-made vehicles built low to the ground and outfitted with hydraulic lifts. Miguel (Demián Bichir), a pivotal member of a car club called the Coasters, is preparing his vehicle for a high-stakes competition. His reluctant assistant is his younger son, Daniel (Gabriel Chavarria), who would rather be honing his considerable skills as a graffiti artist than working on cars.
Miguel once hoped that Daniel’s brother, Francisco (Mr. Rossi), would be the one to aspire to lowrider greatness, but Francisco ended up in prison instead. He completes his long sentence just before the big car competition, and both Daniel’s and Miguel’s lives are complicated by his reappearance. Also complicating things is that Miguel has remarried since the boys’ childhoods; Eva Longoria is underused as his current wife.
There’s nothing subtle about this examination of cultural and generational clashes, and sometimes the director, Ricardo de Montreuil, and the screenwriters, Elgin James and Cheo Hodari Coker, veer into cliché land. They do a nice job, though, of slipping in explanatory tidbits to help along those unfamiliar with the lowrider world.