Sunday, September 14, 2014

Life of Crime

Frank Dawson is skimming the money from his housing projects and Ordell and Louis know it, but can't prove it. So to extract money from the corrupt developer, they decide to get a little bit of extra leverage by kidnapping his wife, Mickey.

Frank is too busy ignoring his son, Bo, and diddling his mistress, Melanie, to notice. When Louis and Ordell make him aware of his plight, it takes very little persuasion from Melanie to convince Frank not to negotiate with the kidnappers: win-win, either way, right? Louis and Ordell, meanwhile, are struggling to keep Mickey reasonably safe while they shelter her in the house of neo-Nazi Richard.

The first thing you've gotta be grateful for when someone adapts a crime story, particularly one by Elmore Leonard (3:10 to Yuma) is that you can follow it, and this one you mostly can. I couldn't quite figure out how Ordell sussed out Melanie's plans, nor did I exactly buy the relationship between Mickey and Louis.

But the bigger mystery is how a movie with Jennifer Aniston (Mickey), Tim Robbins (Frank), Mos Def (Ordell) and Isla Fisher (Melanie) ends up with under 50 theaters for its opening. Maybe it's 'cause of John Hawkes, who plays Louis, who is restricted to independent films (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Winter's Bone) by law, apparently.

I mean, it's not great, sure. But it's good. It's fun. It's dark, but not overly so. Writer/director Daniel Schecter moves things along at a pace that allows you to appreciate the cleverness and gloss over the silliness.

So I guess it's the Leonard thing. People who go see films based on Leonard's work have expectations. I guess those expectations were met by '90s films like Jackie Brown and Get Shorty, both of which are probably over-rated.

Guessing. I've only ever seen the 3:10 to Yuma flicks, and John Frankenheimer's ugly and unpleasant 52 Pickup. (The latter film along with the even worse film The Men's Club, released the same year, left me with a life-long aversion to Roy Scheider films.)

I don't know who makes these decisions. After a summer when Lucy is still in the top 10 in its 9th week, this movie (in its second week) is sandwiched between Land Ho! and Snowpiercer which are both in their third months! In fact, those two films are picking up theaters while this one languishes after a not-even half-hearted attempt to market it.

Did you hear of it beforehand? I didn't. It was just playing and not awful (though the popular RT score has dropped from the 60s into the 40s since it first came out).

Anyway, it's fun, short, dark, and maybe too cute for some. Good acting, especially from Aniston (not in Rachel mode) and Hawkes (who's always good). Mos Def and Tim Robbins are doing their things: It's not a reach for either of them, with Def seeming only slightly more sleazy than he did in Begin Again and Robbins having perfected the Evil Republican caricature years ago. (Of course, the character's party is never mentioned out loud but you know what template Robbins is drawing from.) Mark Boone Junior is amusingly loathsome as the Nazi.

I was struck by how long-in-the-tooth Isla looked in this. She's 38, but the lighting really revealed a heavily applied makeup. Perhaps that was a deliberate choice; I know I've never thought in the past, upon seeing Fisher, "She's getting long in the tooth." Aniston, 45, looks great. Like a woman in her 40s, but not one mutilating herself in an attempt to look like a woman in her 20s.

So, maybe it's deliberate, to keep the audience from identifying too much with Melanie. On the other hand, Melanie is far-and-away the most evil character in the story, so I'm not sure that was ever an issue. (Actually, given that the movie takes place in 1978, they're all too old for their roles.)

I spotted two things in Life of Crime that struck me as anachronistic: At one point the smarmy country-club confrère play amusingly by Will Forte (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, Nebraska) is about to dial 9-1-1. And at another point Aniston talks to Robbins about "quality time". Those things were '80s in my world, but 9-1-1 has a long history and the first recorded use of "quality time" is in the '70s, so maybe both things were in the original book, written in '78.

Anyway, details aside, The Boy and I liked it.

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