Life of Crime, a film based on the 1978 Elmore Leonard novel The Switch, has finally made it to the screen, nearly 30 years after producers first tried to make The Switch into a film. Unfortunately, the movie is rather drab.
The film features a kidnapping plot that has a rich wife, Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), being taken hostage; however, her philandering husband, Frank (Tim Robbins), doesn’t really care. A plan to make the movie in the ’80s was scrapped when Ruthless People, a movie starring Danny DeVito and Bette Midler with a similar premise, went into production.
In the interim, Quentin Tarantino adapted Leonard’s Rum Punch into Jackie Brown in ’97. Jackie Brown featured characters who also appear in Life of Crime: Kidnappers Ordell Robbie (Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) were played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro, respectively, in Jackie Brown. Isla Fisher also appears as Frank’s mistress, Melanie, a character portrayed by Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown.
I share this trivia about Life of Crime, because it is far more interesting than anything that happens in the actual movie.
Unlike some of the more successful Elmore Leonard film adaptations, like Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight (1998), Life of Crime lacks cleverness, laughs and even a discernible pulse. It’s a mostly flat affair, boasting a decent cast trying their best with a bland script.
Writer-director Daniel Schechter opts to make Life of Crime a period piece set in the 1970s. He gives his movie a washed-out look to go along with the humorless dialogue, and the pacing of this film is at times frustratingly slow and sloppy. It’s only 98 minutes long, but it feels like more like three hours long.
Nothing happens in this movie that feels new or inspired. The kidnappers take Mickey; they find out a big ransom is unlikely because the husband is a jerk; and that’s it. There’s a side plot involving a guy named Marshall (Will Forte) trying to have an affair with Mickey that is underdeveloped, and Mark Boone Junior shows up as a kidnapping accomplice who is a neo-Nazi. His character is probably supposed to add some kind of dark comic flavor, but he’s just ugly and unpleasant.
Aniston, one of the more misused actresses in Hollywood, is given the thankless task of acting worried and tired throughout the movie. None of her comedic chops are called upon; one gets a true sense that she was left out in the wilderness by her director.
Of all the performers, Mos Def seems the most comfortable in his role. He stars in the few moments of the movie that pop and crackle with Leonard’s style. Hawkes, a reliable actor, unfortunately joins Aniston in seeming mostly lost. Fisher, like Mos Def, manages to make her scenes somewhat worth watching. At one point, the characters played by Mos Def and Fisher team up; that made me wish the whole film was just about them.
The film includes the requisite unflattering period clothes and ’70s music on the soundtrack. The 1970s could provide a cool musical backdrop, but Schechter and friends chose such duds as “Let Your Love Flow” and “Don’t Pull Your Love.” If any soundtrack could have used a nice, upbeat ’70s track by The Kinks or The Who, it would have been this one.
Life of Crime seems to entirely miss the point and spirit of its source material. Or, perhaps it’s just getting unjustly compared to work by the likes of Tarantino and Barry Sonnenfeld. Either way, I was pretty bored.
Life of Crime is available via video on demand and online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com. It is also playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).