Life of Crime: Toronto Review

'Life of Crime'

Based on the novel The Switch, two Detroit-area criminals, Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey), kidnap the wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a corrupt real estate developer (Tim Robbins) and hold her for ransom.

Kidnapping tale has the right elements but never catches fire.

Kidnappers demand ransom from a cheating husband in the latest adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel.

An Elmore Leonard adaptation with less snap-and-crackle than usual, Daniel Schechter's Life of Crime starts promisingly and ends with a smile but underwhelms in between. Though very far from the worst film to be made from his work, the kidnapping-gone-wrong yarn lacks the sex appeal of Out of Sight, the streetwise staying power of Jackie Brown, the tight-quarters tension of 1957's 3:10 to Yuma. It will attract attention at the box office for its marquee cast and pedigree (especially so soon after the author's passing), but a Get Shorty success is out of the question.

John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey play Louis and Ordell, two small-time crooks (played by Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown) who've learned that Detroit businessman Frank Taylor (Tim Robbins, perfectly cast as a 1978 country-club boor) has been stashing ill-gotten gains in an offshore bank account. While he's on one of many visits to the Bahamas, they decide to kidnap his wife, Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), and demand a million dollars for her safe return.

What Louis and Ordell's spies failed to tell them is that, on all his trips to the islands, Frank shacks up with the same woman. In fact, he plans to marry this girl, Melanie (Isla Fisher), and has timed a divorce filing to surprise Mickey while he's out of town. Under the circumstances, he's less eager to part with his illicit nest egg than the average loving husband.

And that's almost as twisty as Schechter's screenplay gets. Yes, there are some hiccups -- a family friend with designs on Mickey (Will Forte) nearly derails the kidnapping itself; a Nazi-fetishizing accomplice (Mark Boone Junior) can't be trusted to guard the hostage without ogling her -- but these problems are self-contained, not generating tension or leading to others.

They also don't do much to exploit the comic value usually offered by Leonard's not-so-bad bad guys. The fellas didn't think their plan through, true. But while Bey and Hawkes have fine chemistry, the script doesn't give them enough to work with, outside of some jabs at their racist, unwashed collaborator. The most involving angle here is Louis' growing sympathy for Mickey, who while waiting to be ransomed is learning her current predicament may not be the biggest problem she has. The two have some enjoyably frank encounters as the film progresses, scenes that nearly make this incarnation of the Louis character (rakish in his purloined Borsalino) one worth admitting to the Leonard pantheon.

Tech values are solid, heavy on the credibly ugly Seventies threads, though The Newton Brothers' score is occasionally too authentic -- calling to mind an era of over-lit, wide-lapel crime films that were rarely as fun as they promised.

Cast: John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey, Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Isla Fisher, Mark Boone Junior, Will Forte

Director-Screenwriter: Daniel Schechter

Based on the novel "The Switch" by Elmore Leonard

Producers: Elizabeth Destro, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Jordan Kessler, Michael Siegel, Lee Stollman

Executive producers: Charles Sauveur Bonan, James Garavente, Christopher Herghelegiu, Aleen Keshishian, Larry Ladove, Kim Leadford, Elmore Leonard, Bryan Mansour, Tim Nye, Jacob Pechenik

Director of photography: Eric Alan Edwards

Production designer: Inbal Weinberg

Music: The Newton Brothers

Costume designer: Anna Terrazas

Editor: Matt Garner

No rating, 99 minutes