A kidnapping. A woman unsatisfied with her life is kidnapped by a couple of criminals. They want her husband to pay the ransom money; he’s off on vacation with his mistress, and has already sent in divorce papers. So we wait. What will come of this? Who will blink first? And why does one of the criminals seem to have a certain affection for the woman he kidnapped? Such is the premise of Life of Crime, which is a diversion of a film and nothing more. Try to remember much of it a day later and you’re going to struggle.
The woman in question is Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), currently married to Frank (Tim Robbins), who is having an affair with Melanie (Isla Fisher). The criminals are Ordell (Yasiin “Mos Def” Bey) and Louis John Hawkes). So, now you have the primary players. The film is based on an Elmore Leonard novel called The Switch, which couldn’t serve as the title to our film because Aniston, arguably the film’s biggest name, already starred in a film with that name. And that would just get confusing.
There’s a lot of talent on-screen in Life of Crime. Sometimes they’re wearing masks, but most of the time they’re just sitting around, waiting for something to happen. There’s a charm to the film at its outset when all we’re doing is being introduced to everyone. But by the time the kidnapping has taken place, that charm has been replaced with … nothing, actually. It hasn’t been replaced at all. It’s just been removed. And the plot is barely relevant, too. It’s just lots of sitting around and talking, waiting for one side to make a move.
One might think this would allow for a lot of dialogue to take place that would let us into the lives and souls of these characters — during which time we could possibly learn something about people — but that doesn’t happen. Superficial emotions and actions fill the film. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to dissect. People talk to fill the time and very little else. I suppose it’s supposed to entertain the audience but I can’t say that goal was accomplished.
I think part of the problem is the way that the film has been framed. We’re relatively intimate with everyone involved, so there’s no tension. We know that Ordell and Louis aren’t going to harm Mickey, and we know that Frank, while a cheater and not a great person, isn’t going to let Mickey die. So, we wonder, what’s the issue? Where’s the conflict? What sort of suspense can the film generate? When the dark comedy and charm wears off — and it does very early — can the plot or characters keep us engaged? They can’t.
It’s not through a lack of on-screen talent, though. Most of the actors are fine-good in their roles, with John Hawkes standing out the most, if only because he gets the most to do. That’s really what it comes down to. I mean, Will Forte and Mark Boone Jr. are also in the movie, but you don’t hear me talking about them — outside of this sentence — because their roles are almost pointless for most of the film. What does Jennifer Aniston do outside of being kidnapped and sitting on a bed? Not much. Just … nothing much happens in Life of Crime.
Maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe being a criminal is really boring — outside of a few select moments — and that’s what Life of Crime (note the title) is trying to illustrate. If that was a goal — and I’m stretching here it even consider it — then it succeeded. It also made for a relatively boring movie that nobody really has any reason to watch. So … congratulations? I guess? Is that something you should be proud to accomplish?
Life of Crime is a dull movie that only works if you think that it’s supposed to represent the mundanity that comes from working as a criminal. It involves a lot of waiting around, doing nothing but talking about little of importance. That is what we see in this movie. The actors were fine but were given little to do. It has a charming opening and there’s a bit of dark humor thrown in every now and then, but it doesn’t add up to anything beyond a minor distraction that you won’t remember in a day or two.