Life of Crime

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Life of Crime
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Ordell (Mos Def), Louie (John Hawkes) and Richard (Mark Boone Jr.) have a foolproof plan: kidnap the wife of a corrupt real-estate developer and demand $1000000 in ransom for her safe return. What they do not know, after they snatch Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), is that her husband, Frank (Tim Robbins), has no plans to pay for their “Life of Crime.”

Robin:
Writer-director Daniel Schechter adapts Elmore Leonard’s 1978 novel, The Switch, with a fine and funny cast and a screenplay that brings out the author’s eccentric character-driven style. It helps that the characters are peopled by a great gang of veteran actors.

Louis has been shadowing Mickey, following her to learn her routine, in preparation of the abduction. He and Ordell think they have all the bases covered when Frank takes an impromptu trip for “business” to Freeport in the Bahamas, dropping his son Bo (Charlie Tahan) off at his grandparents in Florida. This fortuitous trip works perfectly into their plans and the kidnapping takes place without a hitch. Well, there is one hitch: family friend Marshall (Will Forte), knowing Frank is away, drops in for possible tryst with Mickey. The best laid plans, as they say, go terribly awry.

The cast does a fine job with Leonard’s usual suspects. Hawkes, Def and Boone are funny as the gang that could not kidnap straight. The relationship between Hawkes’s Louie and Aniston’s Mickey is a miniature form of Helsinki Syndrome and the two bond to a hoped for conclusion. Tim Robbins and Isla Fisher, as his saucy, gold-digging young mistress are great to watch, particularly the conniving Melanie. All involved effortlessly inhabit their characters.

The filmmakers do a decent job with the film’s 1978 setting, especially cars, costume and makeup. The score, which uses bongos to good effect, fits the lighter tone of the crimedy. “Life of Crime” is not as stylish or energy-charged as “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight,” but it is a great deal of fun. I give it a B.

Laura:
Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) is referred to by her husband as his trophy wife, but Frank (Tim Robbins, "Thanks for Sharing") seems more attached to the golfing trophy he's just been awarded and Mickey knows this.  When she's kidnapped by Ordell (yasiin bey aka Mos Def, "Begin Again") and Louis (John Hawkes, "The Sessions"), Frank gets the call in the Bahamas where he's shacked up with mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher, "Now You See Me") after having served divorce papers, but it's their knowledge of his illegal real estate development dealings that gets his attention in "Life of Crime."

Writer/director Daniel Schechter adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 1978 novel'The Switch' will remind many of the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker 1986 comedy "Ruthless People," but "Life of Crime" is a gentler comedy whose kidnappers pose more of a threat and whose kidnap victim is a whole lot more sympathetic.  Schechter's unexpectedly diverse cast play characters who are all losers of different stripes trying to maneuver themselves out of a bad situation and although the director revels in 1970's period Leonard, he gets the comedy to come naturally from his actors' characterizations.

bey is a slick and smooth Ordell, the 'brains' of the outfit whereas Hawkes has a sensitive side, first apparent when Ordell takes Louis to meet the man who'll house their victim (the characters of Ordell and Louis also appear in Leonard's 'Rum Punch,' which Quentin Tarantino adapted for the screen as "Jackie Brown").  Richard is a White Supremist and collector of Nazi memorabilia whose views make Ordell an unlikely collaborator, but Mark Boone Junior ("Memento") makes it work.  His penchant for peepholes is also the catalyst that brings Louis's more protective attraction to Mickey out into the open.  Mickey finds herself more intrigued by the gentle criminal than neighbor Marshall Taylor (Will Forte, "Nebraska"), who inadvertently exposes his adulterous desires by wandering into the crime in progress and whose efforts to extricate himself are not only funny, but help Mickey see beneath Louis's criminal surface.

Down in the Caribbean, Tim Robbins paints Frank as a man proud of his illicit success and the hot little number he's ditching his wife for, but he's not so venal as to wish her ill will. Melanie, on the other hand, may be the smartest of the lot and Isla Fischer makes duplicity almost adorable.

Schechter's done a great job corralling the country clubs, Cadillacs, Colonials, Caribbean condos and costumes of the 1970s but its cast that really makes his adaptation sing.  His one awkward note is inclusion of Frank and Mickey's son, Bo (Charlie Tahan, "Love Is Strange"), who's dispatched early and forgotten.

Grade:  B.
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