Originally published on So So Gay on 3 September 2014.
Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) is the socialite trophy wife to the drunken mess that is Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins), whose soured marriage is on the rocks, not least in part due to Frank’s mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher). Meanwhile, a pair of ex cons – Louis Gara (John Hawkes) and Ordell Robbie (Yasiin Bey) – are planning to solve all their problems by kidnapping Mickey to ransom her back to Frank for $1 million. However, unbeknownst to all bar Frank who has drawn up the papers, the Dawson’s marriage is about to end in divorce – throwing a major spanner in the kidnappers’ plan…
Based on the novel The Switch by the late Elmore Leonard (Out of Sight, 3:10 to Yuma, Jackie Brown), written and directed by Daniel Schechter and with a first-rate cast, on paper this film looks like a surefire winner. Sadly, however, Life of Crime doesn’t manage to equal – let alone surpass – the sum of its parts.
Billed as a comedy-drama, it neither has enough laughs to warrant the former label nor is it dramatic enough to justify the latter. With the exception of a couple of well-positioned quips (Mickey walks into a room full of Nazi memorabilia, visibly shocked; Louis retorts, ‘What? You don’t like history?’), the genuinely biggest laugh comes in the closing moments of the film, which somehow feels like the start of an excellent crime-comedy rather than the end.
It’s certainly not all bad. Aniston is an always watchable presence and an underrated dramatic actress – though here, she barely has need to use her comic timing. Hawkes and Bey are great as the bumbling kidnappers – if perhaps a little too likeable – while Fisher is excellent as the conniving and opportunistic Melanie. The late ’70s landscape is brought to life on screen effectively – though perhaps with some contemporary eyes softening the less appealing edges – and it’s all matched by a superb soundtrack.
Nevertheless, the net effect of watching Life of Crime is that it’s stuck in neutral with a lacklustre script, when you’re egging it on to kick it up into fifth for a thrilling and hilarious riot; it certainly has the talent involved to execute that kind of blockbuster. Sadly, this moment never comes, and the cast coast along for its just over 100-minute run-time.
While an enjoyable enough watch that only just stops short of outstaying its welcome, the biggest crime committed by this film is surely the shameful under-use of a stellar cast.
Life of Crime is in cinemas from Friday 5 September. Assets courtesy of Curzon / Artificial Eye.