Support Local Journalism. Join Riverfront Times Press Club.

Unjustified: Elmore Leonard deserves better flicks than Life of Crime 

Jennifer Aniston in Life of Crime.

© 2014 - Roadside Attractions.

Jennifer Aniston in Life of Crime.

Weep at another whiff of an Elmore Leonard adaptation, one that nails down neither the peppery laughs nor the street-crime desperation that are key to the writer's work. Instead, the comedy's too broad to take the characters seriously, and the vibe is breezily aimless, a mistake in a story about anxious waiting. The Switch, the Leonard tale getting the movie-star makeover, concerns a couple hoods' kidnapping of a rich crook's wife — but come to find out the crook's just served her with papers and prefers that she be kidnapped. Jennifer Aniston is the wife, and she's almost worth the ticket price — she wields that endlessly expressive face of hers to evince fear, confusion, amusement, and, annoyance, often all at once. (Her filmy '70s blouses suggest someone should build an American Hustle around her.)

Her character's holed up in the stinking home of a cartoonish neo-Nazi, where kidnappers (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey) try to sweat bucks out of her husband (Tim Robbins), who's at the beach with his mistress (Isla Fisher) and won't return the kidnappers' calls. A few strong, stinging moments from Aniston aside, the film's often slack, and key scenes are AWOL: Time passes in fits, tension never mounts, and once the double crosses start, we just have to take the movie's word for it that somewhere in there, Character B and Character C have discovered something worth trusting in one another.

Hawkes and Bey are strong and likable presences, but the movie never puts the screws to them. You can tell from the first reels that they'll eventually be at odds with that white supremacist (Mark Boone Junior), a piggish rapist whose decor is all filth and swastikas. It's hard not to wonder: Why should we care about criminals dumb enough to throw in with this man-pile? (Leonard makes it clear that his losers have no other choice; the movie just asks us to accept it.) Since his choice of a partner is as bad as her choice of a husband, it's no surprise that Hawkes' character inevitably stirs some minor longing from Aniston's, and the attraction is nicely underplayed. She's never better than when looking perplexed but aroused at the heart's unlikely stirring — still, by the end, like many of the characters here, they seem to share a bond the movie hasn't bothered to show us.

Robbins is funny as a golden boy gone to pot but convinced he's still golden, but he vanishes for long stretches. That facilitates some of those third-act double crosses, but like too much of what makes it to the screen in Life of Crime it's weirdly under-motivated. Robbins' character isn't mysteriously gone; he's just absent, a hole in the movie. Dispiritingly, it's all set in Detroit in the '70s, and the only female black character who is given a name is on-screen for less than 30 seconds, her breasts exposed for a sight gag about "big tittays."

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.

Now Playing

Life of Crime is not showing in any theaters in the area.

What others are saying

  • Speaking of...

    Read the Digital Print Issue

    June 16, 2021

    View more issues

    Newsletters

    Never miss a beat

    Sign Up Now

    Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

    Best Things to Do In St. Louis

    © 2021 Riverfront Times

    Website powered by Foundation