Saturday, November 1, 2014

"Life of Crime": Competently Un-Noteworthy

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Life of Crime suffers a handicap right out the gate by featuring many of the same characters as the Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.  While not a direct prequel to that film, it is based on the same series of novels written by the prolific Elmore Leonard.  Mos Def (here credited as Yasiin Bey) replaces Samuel L. Jackson as Ordell; John Hawkes takes over the role of Louis for Robert DeNiro; Bridget Fonda’s Melanie is swapped out for Isla Fisher’s take on the character.  All three are capable actors, but they don’t bring the same charisma that Jackie Brown’s cast brought to the table, and the inevitable comparison makes this film a little hard to judge in a vacuum.  However, despite not living up to Tarantino-level standards, the film works in its own right, even if it is fairly standard in the process.

Ordell and Louis are just starting out as a couple of criminals, and they decide that their first big kidnapping should be of Mickey Dawson (played by Jennifer Aniston).  Mickey is the wife of Frank Dawson (played by Tim Robbins), a wealthy man with a secret bank account full of funds he has embezzled from his company.  After the crooks nab Mickey, though, they hit a snag in the negotiations: Frank was planning on divorcing Mickey anyway, and is now with his manipulative girlfriend, Melanie.  Now it’s up to Ordell and Louis to figure out how to still turn a profit on this criminal enterprise.

Now, this is mostly a lighthearted affair, not so much in that it’s a comedy, but that the characters are generally casual and there’s never really a sense of urgency to any of the conflict.  Scenes mostly exist to simply allow some well-written characters to interact with each other and the plot takes a backseat to the banter.  This isn’t really a bad thing, but the film is missing a creative edge to put a distinctive stamp on its product.  It could be that the script needed more comedic or dramatic tuning; it could be that the acting was too generic and safe; it could be that the cinematography and overall direction were lacking in the stylized finesse we’ve come to expect from the crime genre.  The unfortunate side-effect, though, is that the finished product feels incomplete, or rather unremarkable.

That isn’t to say that Life of Crime is a bad film by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s perfectly competent.  For all that the film lacks, that shouldn’t really be a judgment on what is there.  Unfortunately, though, the good stuff isn’t so good that I feel like I can adequately comment on it.  If ever a film were just “okay,” this one is it.  I’d say that you can give this one a rental, especially if you want an unofficial Jackie Brown prequel.  But I don’t think it’s anything you can’t live without seeing, with so many much superior versions of the same premise and genre.

Have your own favorite crime comedy?  Let me know in the comments below.

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