Mickey: A million dollars? It’s just not gonna happen.
The time is 1978 and the place is Detroit. Two low-life criminals, Ordell (Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes), are looking for a way to make large amounts of cash, in a small amount of time. The pair have been carefully investigating businessman Frank Taylor (Tim Robbins) and have learned that he has been stashing cash in an offshore bank account in the Bahamas. When Frank goes to the Bahamas for one of his routine trips, Ordell and Louis make a visit to his house, where they kidnap his wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston). All is going well for the two criminals until they decide to give Frank a call and demand one million dollars for Mickey’s safe return. What the two failed to find out is that Frank is keeping more than his money in the Bahamas; he is also visiting his mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher), who he plans to marry. Ordell and Louis are left at a standstill, as they’ve realized that Frank doesn’t necessarily want his wife back.
Yes, LIFE OF CRIME sounds strangely familiar to the 1986 comedy, RUTHLESS PEOPLE, but this is definitely not that movie. Writer/Director, Daniel Schechter adapted Elmore Leonard’s 1978 novel “The Switch”. And if the characters also sound familiar, it’s because Ordell and Louis were in Quentin Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN, where they were played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro. So technically LIFE OF CRIME is its prequel.
For the most part, LIFE OF CRIME is a very entertaining film, but the script just isn’t as tight as those of the great Leonard adaptations like GET SHORTY and JACKIE BROWN. That being said, as far as adaptations go, LIFE OF CRIME could be a lot worse. All of the performances are strong, standouts being Robbins and Aniston, in what is perhaps her best screen role yet. The film mixes just enough wit and humour to separate the film from being just another ransom flick, but does not overstay its welcome to become a full-fledged comedy. Some of the plot details are a little unoriginal though. Maybe they were fresh when the book was written, but the whole kidnapper falling in love with the kidnapping victim thing is overdone, and has long ago become tedious.
You’re not getting anything new with LIFE OF CRIME, but the film works thanks to some great acting and smart dialogue. While you probably won’t end up caring what happens to the characters, you’ll certainly be entertained.