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A day late and a dollar short. That’s the best, only, and most literal way to describe the plight of Tarek (Adel Karam) and Zeina (Amal Bouchoucha) in Netflix’s Dollar, a show about people searching for a specific dollar bill. As the leads scour the town for a piece of currency, the Lebanese action drama series searches for meaning and, like Tarek and Zeina, frequently comes up empty-handed. Throughout the first five episodes of Dollar, I struggled to find a reason to keep watching this lead-footed romp.
DIRECTOR: Samer Berkawi
A bank tries to drum up attention by giving away a million dollars, but two of the banks’ employees attempt to rig the contest in their favor.
Dollar kicks off with Mr. Wajih looking for ways to make a name for SBH, the new bank he is set to open. Tarek, an eager-to-please and ruggedly handsome employee, concocts a plan involving a dollar bill. The bill will go into circulation, and whoever possesses it when Mr. Wajih announces the contest on live television will get a million dollars. It’s a silly plan, of course, and Tarek is obviously scheming to get the bill before the general public even knows about the contest. But Tarek will have to compete against higher-ranking bank employees in his quest to cheat the system. Enter Zeina, who is just as conniving as Tarek and even more attractive. Unable to trust each other, Zeina and Tarek make a tentative pact to work together to rig the dollar contest.
It’s a solid, if unremarkable, premise that director Samer Berkawi and writer Hisham Hilal struggle to energize. Early episodes see Tarek and Zeina tracking the bill as it goes from person to person. They get to know the people who cross paths with the bill before trying to swindle them. All of their hustle is for naught, as the bill keeps eluding them. Or is it? Tarek and Zeina leave an impact on each person they encounter, from the coffee vendor with in-law issues, to the divorcee, to the magician and his daughter. The best parts of Dollar happen when Tarek and Zeina make these personal connections. Greed puts the two protagonists in many difficult positions, but compassion tends to get them out. It’s an interesting element to a story that appears to be about greed.
The problems start with Dollar’s formulaic and dull storytelling. The characters are paper thin, and the performances add little depth. Viewers have no reason to care if Tarek and Zeina succeed in their plan, or about the randos whom they encounter along the way. Dollar will probably give us a reason by the end of the season, but after five episodes, I am certain I don’t care enough to find out. In the fifth episode, Tarek stands over a man who has just been hit by a car and asks, “What do we care?” It’s a wonderful self-own by the writers.
Dollar puts a lot of stock in its leads. Karam gives the best performance of the series, imbuing Tarek with a layer of confidence that helps cover up his growing desperation. When the script calls for Tarek to be sincere, Karam sells these moments, particularly in an early jail-set conversation he has with a coffee vendor. Tarek offers relationship advice that hints at a past we can only imagine. Bouchoucha doesn’t fair as well. Zeina’s defining trait is her beauty, and there isn’t much more to her character. Bouchoucha strikes the same poses and hits the same notes over and over again with diminishing returns. At least Bouchoucha and Karam have chemistry. Without their rapport, Dollar would be unwatchable.
The show’s pacing has the urgency of a stroll through the park. Many scenes go on seemingly forever, with too much dead space. Each of the season’s 15 episodes hovers between 40 and 45 minutes, with the opening and closing credits accounting for at least seven minutes. (This show marks the first time I’ve ever taken advantage of Netflix’s “skip intro” option.) Each episode has roughly five minutes of plot stretched beyond its breaking point. Dollar could have been reduced to 15- or 20-minute episodes, which might have given the show the breezy tone it wants. As it stands, Dollar feels like the first draft of a show. It’s overlong, underdeveloped, and fails to differentiate itself from the avalanche of TV shows on Netflix. You’re better off letting this one get lost in circulation.
Looking for something more specific? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, alien movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.