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Unorthodox Drug Trader

July 1, 2010 By:
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What "Holy Rollers" -- and just in time for the fireworks! From left: Jesse-Eisenberg, Justin Bartha and Jason Fuchs in the film, opening July 2.

What makes Sammy run?

It could very well be the Ecstasy he has hidden under his black hat.

But this is Sammy glitch -- not Glick -- and this high-flyer is more beholden to Chasids than to Hollywood.

Yet for all their differences, Sam Gold outruns Glick in the race of regrets as this Chasidic hot shot lays drugs, and not tefillin, on his newfound friends with their pushkas filled with pills.

"Holy Rollers" roils the waters, but helmsman Kevin Asch has turned images to ashes in this new quietly extraordinary film, due to raise controversy with its based-on-fact payot payoffs in drug trafficking.

A midrash-like "Midnight Cowboy," "Holy Rollers" rolls into area Ritz Cinemas on Friday, July 2.

And what a way to begin a career: With a bio bulging in production and short work, Asch is making his feature-film directorial debut with "Holy Rollers," bringing faith and fury to freeze-frame an image of the Orthodox in perhaps as unorthodox a picture as possible.

But he has facts -- and fearlessness -- on his side, as New York City tabloids screamed headlines of high Chasids operating drug trades out of Williamsburg/Crown Heights and the highest of Brooklyn Heights in the late '90s and earlier this millennium, with an Israeli hiring them as innocent/innocuous-looking mules to bring back contraband from Amsterdam -- not very far from the house that Anne Frank used for a far more noble hiding place.

For one who proclaimed in childhood that he wanted to be "an architect and an entertainer," Asch has built a sensational base as frame of reference.

"I am living my childhood dream," says the man behind this noir nightmare on Hester Street.

He hit the mean streets -- Martin Scorsese is an icon -- of such 'hoods as Crown Heights to score this crowning achievement. If the Chasidim are notoriously close-knit, they nevertheless unraveled stories and yarns before him: "It was surprising how open they were, including the [notoriously closed] Satmars."

Fringe festival as seduction of the tzitzit? In a way, as Sam Gold's (Jesse Eisenberg) mettle is tested among the barbiturates of the barbarians.

"I was shocked when I discovered this story," brought to Asch by colleague/"Rollers" producer Danny Abeckaser.

For those Jews who shun the film as shandah, a strong shush: "Holy Rollers" pushes back at biases; ultimately, it is a film that keeps -- and promotes, rather than pummels -- the faith.

"No way," insists Asch, "was I painting a negative picture of the Chasid community."

Indeed, he's communing with artistry here; it is a major accomplishment for this native of Great Neck, N.Y., whose Long Island roots long for their own screen time next time.

Yes, Asch put his neck out with this debut, but then, in this harrowing, heartfelt film about a sordid segment of the Chasid community, it is, ultimately, the Black Hats who wind up wearing the white hats. 

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