Elmore Leonard Brings The Goods, But The Players Can’t Handle It. Oddly Lifeless.
The work of certain novelists seems ready made for the big screen, with John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a prime example and Elmore Leonard, who died last year, supplying several, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight.
It’s not a fail-proof conversion, however, with Anton Corbijn’s Philip Seymour Hoffman-led take on le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man leaving me cold, and now Daniel Schechter’s oddly subdued take on Leonard’s Life Of Crime, with Leonard credited as executive producer.
There’s a whiff of American Hustle about this reasonably witty crime drama, but it’s been shoved out of sight at the back of the fridge for just a little too long. Adapted by Schechter from Leonard’s 1978 novel The Switch, there’s a cracking set-up that sees John Hawkes as Louis and the artist formerly known as Mos Def, now Yasiin Bey, as Ordell, a couple of small-time crooks with eyes on a much bigger prize. These are the same scoundrels who appeared in Leonard’s Rum Punch, filmed as Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, where Samuel L Jackson and Robert De Niro stepped in. Tough shoes to fill.
The masked duo plots to extort a cool million from Tim Robbins’ Frank Taylor, a private-club attending dodgy dealer hiding behind a thin veneer of respectable business while funnelling dirty money offshore. The scam? They’ll kidnap Frank’s wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston) and blackmail him for her safe return. What they haven’t allowed for is his seriously lax moral compass and the fact that, unbeknownst to Mickey when the film opens, Frank’s arranged for divorce papers to be filed the day after he flies to the Bahamas on ‘business’ – mostly cavorting with his mistress and intended second wife, the tough talking Melanie (Isla Fisher).
With all the pieces lined up for a sharp crime caper with a zany twist, somehow Schechter never quite pulls it all together. Life Of Crime feels oddly laborious for a film that barely makes it past the 90-minute mark. Even the inclusion of Mark Boone Junior’s gun-happy Neo Nazi fails to add a sufficient threat level, nor Aniston nail the comedy.
Sure, the snazzy period production values are spot on, but with the exception of Robbins, who appears to be having a great deal of fun playing the odious Frank, there’s a distinct lack of gusto from all of the key players, who uniformly seem to be sleepwalking it. Aniston never shines, while a Stockholm Syndrome attachment to Louis feels underdeveloped and more than a little out of the blue, despite amiable enough chemistry.
Life Of Crime badly needs a shot of adrenaline to the heart, with the failure to capitalise, Tarantino-style, on a funky ‘70s soundtrack an obvious own goal. In the end, it feels like there’s a much better film on the cutting room floor.
Stephen A Russell