Life of Crime Can't Take Its Kidnapping Story Seriously
Weep at another whiff of an Elmore Leonard adaptation, one that nails down neither the peppery laughs nor the street-crime desperation that are key to the writer's work. Rather, Life of Crime is too broad to take the characters seriously, and the vibe is breezily aimless, a mistake in a story about anxious waiting. The Switch, the Leonard tale getting the movie-star makeover, concerns a couple hoods' kidnapping of a rich crook's wife — but, come to find out, the crook's just served her with papers and prefers that she be kidnapped. Jennifer Aniston is the wife, and she's almost worth the ticket price — she wields that endlessly expressive face of hers to evince fear, confusion, amusement and annoyance, often all at once.
Her character is holed up in the stinking home of a cartoonish neo-Nazi, where the kidnappers (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey) try to sweat bucks out of her husband (Tim Robbins), who's at the beach with his mistress (Isla Fisher) and won't return their calls. A few strong, stinging moments from Aniston aside, the film's often slack, and key scenes are AWOL: Time passes in fits, tension never mounts, and once the double crosses start, we just have to take the movie's word for it that somewhere in there, Character B and Character C have discovered something worth trusting in one another.
Hawkes and Bey are strong and likable presences, but the movie never puts the screws to them. You can tell from the first reels that they'll eventually be at odds with that white supremacist (Mark Boone Junior), a piggish rapist whose decor is all filth and swastikas. It's hard not to wonder: Why should we care about criminals dumb enough to throw in with this man-pile? (Leonard makes it clear that his losers have no other choice; the movie just asks us to accept it.) Since his choice of a partner is as bad as her choice of a husband, it's no surprise that Hawkes's character inevitably stirs some minor longing from Aniston's, and the attraction is nicely underplayed. She's never better than when looking perplexed but aroused at the heart's unlikely stirring.
Robbins is funny as a golden boy gone to pot but convinced he's still golden, but he vanishes for long stretches. That facilitates some of those third-act double crosses; but, like too much of what makes it to the screen in Life of Crime, it's weirdly under-motivated. Robbins's character isn't mysteriously gone; he's just absent, a hole in the movie. Dispiritingly, it's all set in Detroit in the '70s, and the only female black character who is given a name is onscreen for less than thirty seconds, her breasts exposed for a sight gag about "big tittays."
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