Life of Crime is an entertaining and relaxing comedy caper based on Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch (2012). Boasting a formidable cast (Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def, Will Forte, Mark Boone Jr, Isla Fisher and Tim Robbins), the film’s ensemble plays to many strengths in its wit, style and character commitment. Life of Crime depicts the escapades of two less-than-brilliant money extortionists who kidnap the wife of a corrupt real estate developer for a billion dollar ransom. Their plan goes awry, however, when it surfaces that husband Frank (Robbins) has a mistress and does not want his wife back.
Set in Detroit in 1978, Life of Crime takes place in a convincingly tacky country club, where an array of seedy characters interact with one another to humorous effect. Comedic wittiness is not, however, the aim of this film, but rather it is to entertain the audience with a clever and refreshing take on a hostage situation. Indeed audiences will be chuckling under their breath and shaking their heads in amusement as Frank refuses to take down the bank account number for the ransom for lack of not having a pen. The pair of common criminals decide to hide wife Mickey (Aniston) in the house of Nazi nut Richard (Boone Jnr), who provides tension to an otherwise relaxed kidnapping scheme. His greasy, dirtied image complements his perverse, if not disgusting, tendency to spy on Mickey in her bedroom and bathroom, using the peepholes he drilled through the walls.
Aside from Richard’s lunacy setting off warning bells, tension is most definitely limited in the narrative, especially with the film’s use of minimal violence. Yet the almost bloodless execution of the hostage plot is refreshing when compared with the usual, much darker depictions of kidnap, ransom and mystery in films such as Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010) and Phone Booth (2002) with Colin Farrell. Life of Crime concentrates on the seriousness and direness of the kidnapping plot although this does result in a number of scenes that begin to drag, consequently understating its comedic strength. One such moment includes Richard confronting a family friend of Mickey’s who knows of her disappearance. The scene becomes interesting when Richard shoots at Marshall’s (Will Forte) car as he races away, but the conversation leading to this point seems dull and unnecessary.
As the film picks up pace, gripping action is anticipated, but this is not the case. For all its plot twists and many surprises, Life of Crime still seems oddly lacklustre. There are certain conventions expected in a hostage/mystery film, where action should be at every turn in the narrative. Life of Crime, on the other hand, neither elicits emotion nor is it action packed. Rather it makes for a frustrating watch at times, as the film packs the majority of its action into one scene of attempted rape and Mickey’s escape. This scene should be climactic, but with the easy-going nature of the film, it struggles to satisfy.
Aniston offers a convincing performance as Mickey. Despite being the only female in the film and its leading actor, Aniston blends into the ensemble of main characters considerably well. Her performance is engrossing and she elicits empathy without resorting to the doleful damsel in distress cliché. Mickey’s slowly developing relationship with Louis (Hawkes), one half of the kidnappers, is unexpected and yet rather sweet. The film does not, however, fall back onto corny territory by avoiding parallels between Louis’s character and the unpleasant Richard.
Life of Crime is entertaining and lighthearted in spite of its dramatic pacing issues. It ticks many boxes with its formidable casting choices, delightful locales, varying characters and witty comedy, and yet may leave you wishing it had just a little more spice.