Life of Crime review: Elmore Leonard gets the funny treatment, again

Film Title: Life of Crime

Director: Daniel Schechter

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Isla Fisher, Tim Robbins, Jon Hawkes

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 94 min

Fri, Sep 5, 2014, 14:54

   

Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) is a socialite who has learned to live with her husband’s many failings, including drunkenness, skirt chasing and poor parenting skills. When Mickey is snatched by doofus criminals Ordell Robbie (Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes), the horrible hubby (Tim Robbins) is in no hurry to cough up the ransom fee. His scheming mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher), isn’t going to encourage him, either.

Louis soon develops a soft spot for his unwanted victim and takes care to shield her from the predatory advances of his Nazi-loving cohort Richard (Mark Boone Jr). Maybe, just maybe, Louis and Mickey can help each other out.

Daniel Schechter’s adaptation of the late Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch is as good an adaptation of Leonard’s comic crime milieu as we’ve seen. The screenplay is deft. The characters are inhabited by people who can act, and, more importantly, who understand the source material.

Aniston makes for a wonderful archetypal Leonard dame. Playing the dissatisfied housefrau of bullying former tennis professional, we’re never in any doubt that there’s a smart cookie lurking under all that pragmatic passivity. Mos Def, Hawkes and Fisher are so damned good we forget they’re playing low-lifes first made famous by Samuel L Jackson, Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997).

So why is such a star-studded affair receiving such a small release almost an entire year after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival? Timing, alas, is not on its side. For all the quality on offer, there’s little here that we haven’t seen many, many times before. In fact, an earlier adaptation of The Switch that was to star Diane Keaton, was abandoned due to the plot’s similarities to Ruthless People. For good reason.

The beats and tics will seem awfully familiar for anyone who has seen Jackie Brown or, indeed, the Leonard-influenced Pulp Fiction. Schechter works hard at making the picture look like a genuine 1970s artefact, only to end up repeating David O Russell’s American Hustle and Tarantino (again).

Enjoyable, nonetheless.