‘Life of Crime’ Boasts a Splendid Cast, But Slow-Paced Plot

Angelo Franco

 

Life of Crime

2.5 stars (out of four)

Rated R

Roadside Attractions

 

In a timely fashion, Life of Crime opens to pay homage to Elmore Leonard’s vast collection of crime fiction and the many adaptations they have spawned.  The film, which first screened at last year’s Toronto Film Festival days after Leonard’s death, relies on a fitting cast and a script that rarely deviates from Leonard’s original dialogue.  Perhaps the truest adaptation to one of the author’s novels, Life of Crime starts off sardonic but pleasing and gets you hooked right away.  But then it dozes off for most of its hour and half runtime before it wraps itself nicely with a bow on top.

 

The film stars Tim Robbins as Frank Lawson, a successful middle-aged businessman from Motor City, USA with dubious matrimonial and fatherly morals and even more questionable business ethics. Frank takes off to the Bahamas to be with his illicit money and to meet up with his paramour, Melanie (Isla Fisher, an actress of rare spirit with some more wiggle room to spread her wings than she’s accustomed to), while leaving his wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) tucked away at home and their young son busy at tennis camp.  Frank has drawn up divorce papers to surprise Mickey while he is safely out of reach of bodily harm, not expecting the blessing in disguise that is about to come his way.  That comes in the form of low-time criminals Ordell (Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes), who concoct a plan to kidnap Mickey and demand a 1 million -ransom for her safe return.  The unforeseen stone in everyone’s shoes is the fact that, with Mickey gone, Frank has just saved $100,000 a year in alimony, so he doesn’t want her back.  Hilarity somewhat ensues.

 

 

It’s a snarly storyline plotted out by a master of the genre, but the film loses its simmering acidity by keeping it a little too safe.  Ordell and Louis (recurring characters is Leonard’s work, both last seen in the critically acclaimed Jackie Brown, played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert de Niro, respectively), have some sweetly acrid dialogue that they’re happy to play off each other, and they make do nicely with what they are given before the camera swooshes away to another facet of the story.  Sometimes this is the Nazi-loving Richard (Mark Boone Junior), and sometimes it is the good-natured and lovable Marshall (Will Forte, who desperately needed more screen time), who has the hots for Mickey and almost foils the kidnapping scheme before all but disappearing for the rest of the movie.   

 

As the trophy wife who struggles with her own wants and needs, Aniston reminds us of the comic chops she possesses by lacing her performance with some well-placed grief and self-deprecation.

Leonard gave Life of Crime the parts it needed and it looks pretty great (thanks to Eric Alan Edwards, who is no stranger to making the ‘70s look similarly fabulous and rundown like he did for Lovelace). But the movie, based on the author’s novel “The Switch,” sticks to its own safe conventions that only hinder the promising cast and photography.  It is a pleasing experience along the lines of a very satisfying yawn after a fun-ridden night at the cinema. 

 

Author Bio:

Angelo Franco is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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