Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Enjoyable And Neglected, Life Of Crime Is Still Worth Watching!

The Good: Funny, Good character mix
The Bad: Very plot-centered
The Basics: Life Of Crime is a fun, albeit basic, crime comedy dressed up with a good cast and an interesting mix of weird characters.

With the recent death of Robin Williams, I find myself thinking more and more about how complex and ridiculous the film industry is. With Williams, it came in the form of Terry Gilliam being unable to get American investors to pony up ten million dollars for a film with Williams and Johnny Depp. For sure, monied people know more about money than I do, but the idea that a movie with Robin Williams and Johnny Depp with a budget of $44 million or less would not be able to (at least) make back the investment seems pretty ridiculous to me. We’ll never know, now. This tops off my review of the new indie film Life Of Crime because Jennifer Aniston is in a new film that is getting far less press than The Skeleton Twins or the recent wave of pseudo-Christian (evangelical) films like God Is Not Dead.

To be fair, Life Of Crime is not a flawless movie by any means. Writer/director Daniel Schechter may well be the last person in the world making new adaptations of Elmore Leonard books (wasn’t that a mid-/late-‘90’s thing?!) and all 1970’s period crime pieces are likely to get stuck in the shadow of American Hustle (reviewed here!) for a while, but Life Of Crime is a solid movie that is well-made . . . it deserved a lot more attention than it is getting. For sure, cinema is a crowded marketplace, but that a film where Jennifer Aniston is leading a cast that includes people like Tim Robbins, Mos Def, Will Forte and John Hawkes, is produced and released and cinephiles have no idea it exists is troubling.

Opening in Detroit, 1978, Ordell and Louis team up definitively when a hood takes Louis for $27. Ordell runs the man over for him and the two commit to Ordell’s plan to get embezzled money from the ultra-rich Frank Dawson. Ordell’s plan is to kidnap Frank’s wife, Mickey, and ransom her for a million dollars, which they will put into an account in the Bahamas. Frank is neglectful of his wife and actually seems to actively dislike her (doing things like driving her home drunk, hitting their other car and leaving Mickey unable to open her door to get out of the car and pinned down by a giant trophy!), which makes his co-worker, Marshall, believe he has a chance with Mickey. When Ordell and Louis go to abduct Mickey things do not go as planned – Mickey drops a jar of marmalade and, because she is barefoot, cuts her foot fairly badly and Marshall enters the house, ready to make his move on Mickey!

After the abduction, Louis and Ordell take Mickey to the house of a Nazi Ordell knows, Richard Monk. Marshall wakes up and makes it look like he was in a car accident (to explain the head injury Ordell gave him to knock him out) and one of Ordell’s tails on Frank informs him that Frank is in the Bahamas with the same woman he was seen with on another occasion. Ordell realizes that Frank may have more than a simple mistress and Frank tells Melanie that he has filed for divorce from Mickey. While Mickey deals with her imprisonment, Louis and Ordell realize that Frank has so little interest in his wife that they will never get a ransom from him! As the two try to get Frank to pay the ransom, the confluence of weird characters complicate what was supposed to be easy money for the pair.

Life Of Crime is easily-recognizable to fans of pop culture as an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel by its collection of quirky characters. Richard is a Nazi who is a peeping tom, who is entirely comfortable doing business with a black man; Ordell is more comfortable with working with Richard than Louis is! Melanie seems straightforward, but has a subtle psychopathic vein in her as she encourages Frank to let the kidnappers kill Mickey (he’s divorcing her anyway . . .). Marshall is more dogged in trying to find what happened to Melanie than the police are! A collection of eclectic characters from all different ways of life is very much a common conceit in Elmore Leonard’s pulp works.

And the film works, even though it is far more average than it is extraordinary. Life Of Crime is funny and entertaining, though it lacks a spark to make it rewatchable. The caper and characters are fun, but despite how many quirky characters there are, the story is ultimately more straightforward than a truly character-centered film. The abduction has very obvious complications presented almost immediately – the wounded foot, the suitor in the house, the divorce papers – so as the film unfolds, it becomes more an exercise in waiting to see how they will influence one another. Life Of Crime plays out well, but it is hardly surprising or audacious.

On the performance front, Life Of Crime is made up of an impressive cast, who adequately embody the characters they portray. Jennifer Aniston plays Mickey without any originality or distinction; the role is straightforward to an extent that it is almost surprising Schechter managed to get her for the role. Mickey is not as memorable as Aniston’s character from Horrible Bosses (reviewed here!), for example. Tim Robbins, Isla Fisher, and Will Forte all give performances that are well-within their previously-established ranges. Even Mos Def, who is wonderfully charismatic as Ordell, gives a performance that seems to be more the result of good casting than anything he is stretching for in the role.

John Hawkes does manage to give a performance in Life Of Crime that allows him to shine. For perhaps the first time in anything I have seen him in, Hawkes does not seem like he is trying to give the performance Sean Penn would have given if he got the same part. Hawkes gives a decent portrayal of an emotionally-confused down-and-out not-quite criminal and he makes Louis pop well-enough to make Life Of Crime watchable.

Life Of Crime is solid, watchable and standard; while none of those are adjectives that might make a blockbuster, it is hard to believe that if the film had had any real promotion, it would have been bigger than it is likely to be.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
10,000 Days
Hit By Lightning
John Wick
Listen Up Philip
The Best Of Me
The Judge
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
The Expendables 3
Guardians Of The Galaxy
The Zero Theorem


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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