Sunday, November 23, 2014

Life of Crime - a crime that doesn’t pay

movie review

No ransom for kidnapping in Life of Crime

The influence of O Henry’s classic The Ransom of Red Chief — the story of a kidnapping gone amusingly wrong — can be perceived in a number of works that have come after it. Joining this considerable list is the new dark comedy Life of Crime, a film that attributes its existence more directly to Elmore Leonard’s 1978 novel The Switch.

Life of Crime is a drama with a compelling premise but waning intensity. In the film, writer-director Daniel Schechter takes us to ’70s Detroit, where two conmen hatch a get-rich-quick scheme but are flummoxed when its execution and aftermath don’t go exactly as planned.

Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey, previously known as Mos Def) are small-time crooks who, along with their neo-Nazi accomplice Richard (Mark Boone Jr.), are hoping for a big pay day. Their target is Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of a corrupt property magnate, Frank (Tim Robbins). But when they kidnap Mickey, the abduction is witnessed by her would-be paramour (Will Forte). When they ask her husband for a million dollar ransom, their plan hits an even bigger snag as they realise Frank has no intention of making the payoff. Unknown to them, he is actually in the process of filing for a divorce and is happily shacked up with his young mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher).

Propelling this series of twists and turns is a winning cast who make a valiant effort to bring their characters to life. Aniston is charming, Hawkes and Bey are reliably impressive with their on-screen chemistry as inept partners in crime and Fisher is amusingly jovial as the conniving Melanie. On the whole, the cast do the best they can with the weak material in hand.

Despite the great setting and feel created by director Daniel Schechter, the project would have benefited by opting for a co-writer. For the most part, Life of Crime just plods along, albeit smoothly, but fails to leave a lasting impression. Even the twist thrown at the end is amusing only if one hasn’t already figured it out halfway through the proceedings.

Everything about the movie seems a little too familiar. It mostly comes off as Ruthless People meets Jackie Brown by way of American Hustle, but with subdued wit and spark. The viewer is never invested in Mickey’s fate (or anyone else’s for that matter) to really care about how things fold out eventually. Although the cast adds more depth to the characters, the material lacks the inspiration that could have made this production truly noteworthy. Ultimately, Life of Crime is watchable, but not nearly as gripping or memorable as it could have been.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

- By Sameen Amer

Sunday Magazine, Express Tribune - 23rd November, 2014 *

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