‘Life of Crime’ is a fun, refreshing, dark comedy

Published 9:02 am Friday, September 5, 2014

Let’s be real, you have probably only heard of “Life of Crime” if you watched Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Friends’ reunion skit, where you maybe heard the title and release date muttered at the end of the sketch. However, don’t let the lack of publicity fool you, “Life of Crime” is actually a surprisingly good film. Written and directed by Daniel Schechter, the film is as smart as it is twisty and darkly funny. Since it was based on the novel “The Switch,” by the legendary Elmore Leonard, it’s easy to see why. Many of Leonard’s other novels and short stories have been adapted for the big screen, such as “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty,” and “Rum Punch” (which inspired [Quentin] Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown”). Leonard is known for his sharp dialogue, and that is definitely not lost on Schechter, who is able to capture many aspects of Leonard’s voice and spirit. It’s no surprise the late author gave Schechter permission to adapt his work into a film.

Life of Crime

Life of Crime

As this is kind of a prequel to Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” fans will be excited to see young-ish versions of familiar characters Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown and Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, in “Life of Crime”) and Louis (Robert De Niro in “Jackie Brown” and John Hawkes in “Life of Crime”). I say “kind of” very loosely because “Life of Crime” is based on Leonard’s novel “The Switch,” which is a prequel to the aforementioned “Rum Punch.” So, while this is not a sanctioned prequel, it still features the same characters. Phew, are you still with me?

In “Life of Crime,” Louis and Ordell are small-time criminals who have come up with a hair-brained kidnapping scheme to make a quick million dollars. The duo plans to kidnap Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), the wife of wealthy Detroit real-estate developer named Frank (Tim Robbins) while he is on a business trip to the Bahamas. After she is safely in their custody, they will call Frank and demand a $1 million ransom for her release.

Despite an early glitch in the plan, thanks to Mickey’s admirer (Will Forte), everything seems to be going well. That is, until the supporting cast of characters led by Frank’s smarter-than-she-looks mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher) throws a wrench in the plan. As it turns out, Frank may not care that his wife’s life is in danger because he secretly filed for divorce before he left. The situation gets even more complicated once Mickey learns of her husband’s infidelity and deceptive business practices. As tensions rise, the conflict seems to be less about the money, and more about the relationships between the characters. How will everything shake out and who will come out on top?

It’s hard to make crime thrillers that aren’t completely predictable. However, “Life of Crime” gives hope that there are still ideas and surprises left to discover. The fact that the movie was set in the 1970s, and I can never resist tacky ‘70s costumes and set design, further adds to its appeal. From John Hawkes (who is always fantastic) to the scene-stealing Isla Fisher, “Life of Crime” is also a showcase of incredible acting talent. Jennifer Aniston adds another role to her resume that demonstrates her ability to play more than a lead in a romantic comedy; she is willing and able to “go there” with more character actor roles as well. While “Life of Crime” will probably not make anyone’s “best of the year” list, it is a refreshing, well-acted film that deserves a look.

My Review: B

lauren bradshaw grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., and can be reached at lnb5e@virginia.edu.