Life of Crime (opening today) has all the ingredients to be a successful, darkly funny crime caper, but despite its parts, it never adds up to anything.
The movie is based on the novel by famed author, Elmore Leonard, who passed away just last year. His work includes several novels that have been adapted for the big screen, including Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight. If you've seen or read any of these pieces of work, you will be able to categorize the tone that director Daniel Schechter strives for with Life of Crime.
At every turn, there are great actors doing what they can with thinly constructed roles. John Hawkes fully embodies his low-life thug character, Louis, who teams up with fellow crook Ordell (Mos Def) to plan a heist. The criminals are not looking to score drugs, steal jewelry or rob a bank, they instead plan to kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a wealthy, corrupt real estate developer, Frank (Tim Robbins). They figure he will pay a handsome ransom for her safe return.
But everyone in the film gets more than they bargained for, while most of us watching get less. It turns out that Frank could literally not care less about his wife and was about to file for divorce and run away with his young mistress (Isla Fisher). The spit-fire Mickey is way more than the bandits are able to handle as well. It becomes a game of cat-and-mouse, with Louis and Ordell demanding that Frank pay them a million bucks for the safe return of his wife, and Frank calling their bluff, despite feeling a bit concerned that these bad guys know about his shady business practices.
A few interesting peripheral characters filled the first half of the film with promise. First there is the dim-witted muscle Richard (Mark Boone Junior), a neo-nazi who is enlisted to help Louis and Ordell contain Mickey. Will Forte shows up playing Marshall, a creepy friend of Mickey who is secretly in love with her. He witnesses the kidnapping but stays mum about it, because placing himself at the scene of the crime wouldn't go over too well with his current wife.
Despite some clever promise and an interesting set-up, Life of Crime fails to create any momentum. Most Leonard movies - especially films like Get Shorty and Out of Sight - have a slick style about them, but Schechter's direction feels limp. Even one-scene stage plays have more mojo and movement than this. But the film's true crime comes in the second half, where characters don't know what to do with themselves and the script completely falls apart. Before you know it, there is an absurd love story. Elsewhere, people start acting without motivation or reason. None of this helped by the realization that the plot is a disaster in the making...I mean, there had to have been a hundred other easier ways for these guys to get paid.
Life of Crime is a misfire. Everybody in this film acts like you would expect a cliched character to act in a film that wants desperately to be cool. Robbins and Hawkes do what they can, but here's another example of needing more than a strong cast to make a strong picture.
Genre: Crime, Comedy
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Tim Robbins, Mos Def, Isla Fisher, Mark Boone Junior, Will Forte
Based on the book by Elmore Leonard
Adapted for the screen by Daniel Schechter
Directed by Daniel Schechter (Supporting Characters, Goodbye Baby)
Opens locally on Friday, Aug 29, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time