MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Life of Crime’ Is A Sporadically Fun Little Crime-Comedy Romp

life of crime

Film: Life Of Crime
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Yasiin Bey, John Hawkes
Directed By: Daniel Schechter

Elmore Leonard, a genius writer who passed away earlier this year, once again has had one of his properties adapted. Life of Crime (based on Leonard’s novel The Switch) can now join the ranks of Jackie Brown, 3:10 to Yuma, and Out of Sight as one of the most functional of Leonard’s adapted material. Decently recreating the rich-to-lower class caste system in 1980s-era Detroit (with country clubs, social events, etc.), Life of Crime spins a sometimes funny tale about trust, love and Nazis (yes, there is a Nazi in this movie) during a failed kidnapping.

Ordell Robbie (Mos Def, or now known as Yasiin Bey) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) are aspiring con artists that go after the people who do not deserve the money that they have. For their first venture into kidnapping for ransom, they take emotionally abused Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston). For 1 million dollars, they will give her back to her criminal real estate developer husband, Frank (Tim Robbins). What Louis and Ordell don’t know is that Frank has a woman on the side named Melanie (Isla Fisher) and was planning on divorcing Mickey anyway. Through a series of miscommunications and mistakes, the dynamic duo must find a way to the money and out of this peculiar situation.

Ordell and Louis are the characters made famous by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. This wisecracking and vulgar duo are much more subdued now as they struggle with their first score. Life of Crime isn’t necessarily a prequel to Tarantino’s 1997 crime-comedy hit. Yes, this has two of the same characters but that is as far as it goes. Leonard wrote these characters as if they could be inserted into different storylines without any sense of continuity, the same way that Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye utilized Raymond Chandler’s famous private eye, Philip Marlowe.

Unlike other Leonard adaptations, Life of Crime spends a lot of time watching Ordell, Louis, and Mickey develop instead of comedic sequences being piled on top of one another. There’s an air of humanity here that you don’t get from comedies nowadays. The film spends its scant 98-minute runtime treating you as an onlooker to a potentially funny situation. The jokes are never overt and help the viewer slip into this little slice of suburban noir. Although Life of Crime slogs when trying to get to a turning point in its plot, the ending more than makes up for a story that could have easily stopped three quartes of the way through itself.

Life of Crime soars as a comedic piece in the small and poignant moments that John Hawkes, Aniston, and Yasiin Bey share. Hawkes is a perfect fit for the vulnerable man who doesn’t know if the crime life is for him. Bey is perfectly cast as the sweet-talking con man showing Hawkes the ropes. Aniston is in her best role in years as she is able to display both her comedic and dramatic abilities. She plays a character that is fed up with her life and abusive husband, one who silently rebels until the moment is opportune to get revenge. Tim Robbins gets little to no time to be anything past conniving and mean but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch Aniston throw verbal jabs at him. Isla Fisher also gets a couple of moments to be fun as she plays Robbins’ mistress who follows where the money is.

Daniel Schechter, the director and writer, doesn’t struggle with Leonard’s pulpy material as much as he tries to subdue the author’s violent plot tendencies. This isn’t a bad thing and I can’t speak to how close to the novel the film is but as a crime caper, it’s pretty tame. Schechter is able to mine the very ‘lived-in’ comedic moments that support Leonard’s writing. Everything from making fun of a neo-Nazi’s obsessive gun collection to riffing off of the suburban life of the bourgeoisie in Detroit is utilized to chuckle-worthy comedic chagrin. If there was one major gripe visually, it’s that the whole film looks like it was made for TV. Not as bad as how soap operas look but this film is devoid of anything that makes it look cinematic. Life of Crime may have a hard time to get where it’s going but when it arrives, viewers will have more than enough to laugh about.

GRADE: B-

Review written by Sam Cohen (Follow him on Twitter

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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