Life of Crime should be a good movie. It really, really wants to be: it’s based on the novel penned by the late, great Elmore Leonard, the cast is not so modestly studded with stars, and the plot is darkly comical and occasionally unexpected. The film struggles to maintain consistency for most of its runtime, but by the end just falls flat on its face.
In 1978, two average criminals Louis and Ordell (John Hawkes and Mos Def) kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), wife of the corrupt real estate developer Frank (Tim Robbins), hoping to get one million dollars as ransom. What they don’t expect is that Frank has fallen for another woman named Melanie (played by Isla Fisher) and is not willing to pay for his wife’s safe return. The two, then, have to figure out a different way to get him to pay. Ordell travels to pay Frank a visit on his vacation in the Bahamas, but instead gets caught up with his mistress who makes it clear that she and Frank intend to marry, and that the way to get more money is to kill Mickey.
Let me pause there. Ordell is now completely alone with the woman Frank does care about (if you’re wondering where Frank is and why he’s cool to leave his girlfriend alone, they don’t really make that clear). So, Ordell’s option is to kill a completely innocent woman for not as much money as he originally wanted, or maybe—just spit balling here—hold this girl for ransom and actually get the full million. Oh, he decides he’s going to have Mickey killed? Yeah, that totally seems like the more logical idea.
The final quarter of the film very conveniently wraps everything up. Mickey evades being murdered by the weird Nazi cultist (Mark Boone Junior) whose house the two were using to hide her in (a cop happens to hit the guy as he’s running wildly down the road shooting), Mickey and Louis are clearly implied to be starting some type of relationship, and Mickey gets to let her one-dimensional scumbag of a husband know that she can send him to jail in a matter of minutes. Then, as if arriving at a completely genius conclusion, Ordell, Louis, and Mickey decide they are going to kidnap Melanie and hold her for ransom. The film then ends on a snarky note, as if saying, “Gotcha, audience! Bet ya didn’t see that one coming!” Ugh. I’m just going to give this film the benefit of the doubt and assume it is not being implied that this twist of an ending is actually a twist. They can’t possibly think people are that dumb, right?
The film starts off pretty strong, showcasing a realistic ‘70s setting and the promising casting of John Hawkes, who seems unable to disappoint. After about twenty minutes or so, though, it starts to become pretty clear that most things about this movie are bland and forgettable—even Hawkes. The directing is perhaps at fault here, as there is no question this cast is usually able to deliver strong performances (or at least amusing in Aniston’s and Fisher’s case). It’s highly unfortunate what a dud this film ends up being, mostly due to the strong potential it had.
Life of Crime opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.