Rayna is new to town and wandering alone in the dead of night. But then she encounters Zeke, who is struggling with something. Turns out he’s trying to steal a car, and Rayna actually has the perfect skill set to help him out.
Zeke then offers her a chance to join his gang of car thieves. But these aren’t ordinary criminals — they have ethics, believing that “everyone has the right to steal back what was stolen from them,” according to Zeke. But when the gang contrives to steal a 2001 Lexus from Zeke’s dad, things might get a little too personal.
A blend of “Rushmore” meets “Repo Man,” this comedic short — written by Eric T. Roth and directed by Christopher Guerrero — possesses the exuberance of absurdist B-movies, a jagged punk-rock sensibility and a sweet, slightly melancholic emotional core. Clearly in the tradition of the car movies like Fast and the Furious, it’s defined initially by its stylistic brio, but it pulls a bit at the heartstrings as it explores how the wounds of childhood persist into our adult lives.
There’s an energetic scrappiness at all levels of the film, from the distinctive craftsmanship to the stylized visuals to the swashbuckling nature of many of the performances. As seen in many of the costumes and music cues, there’s a deep affection for the spirit of the 80s and 90s — eras where indie cinema flourished, bringing forth talents like Gregg Araki or even Quentin Tarantino, who used low budgets and reduced circumstances to create brash, creative and individualistic films that celebrated life on the freakish, weird margins. That same spirit exists here, as Zeke’s gang comes together to steal cars from people who deserve it.
The storytelling is playful as well, romping from one story event to another with unabashed confidence, creating a wildly entertaining ride of a narrative. It doesn’t take itself seriously, right down to the sometimes deadpan performances of the ensemble cast, led by Max Baumgarten as Zeke and Ellington Wells as Rayna. Yet they can hit sincere notes, as well — as they the gang finds itself at a crossroads.
“Car Stealers” is stylish, fun and brash, but underneath its spirited craft and execution is a celebration of something deeper. It’s a journey about finding your tribe, as weird and wonderful as it is, and how that can be healing and cathartic than avenging your past pain. It celebrates the power of community, friendship, fellowship and united purpose — a message that never ceases to resonate, even during these more complicated times.