You have to hand it to writer/director Daniel Schechter. Although a legitimate Elmore Leonard adaptation in its own right, Life of Crime feels more like a cheeky Quentin Tarantino prequel because its main characters, clueless crooks Ordell Robbie (Mos Def), Louis Gara (John Hawkes) and Melanie (Isla Fisher), all appeared in Jackie Brown. Which takes some serious chutzpah.
Unfortunately, the film can’t match it. While it has all the hallmarks of classic Leonard – the 1970s setting, the insouciant bass-and-snare soundtrack, the irreverent dialogue – these familiar elements only remind us of the fun we’re not having. It’s no fault of the cast, but Samuel L Jackson and De Niro are tough acts to follow, and the sense that we’re perpetually trading down is difficult to escape.
The plot concerns their “piss-poor” attempts to extort money from Tim Robbins (in full Anchorman mode) for the kidnap of his wife, Mickey (Jennifer Aniston). But charming performers do not always make charming performances, especially when they’ve so little to work with.
No one’s really going to kill Jen, are they? Indeed, these clowns seem barely capable of executing a card trick. And with the stakes so low, the only hint of danger comes from a completely gratuitous sexual assault which is basically laughed off a few scenes later.
Playing more like a TV spin-off – broader, cheaper, cleaner – than a film in its own right, Life of Crime lacks the verve of even second-tier Tarantino. Perhaps Schechter should have started with a prequel to Death Proof and worked his way up from there.
‘Life of Crime’ Movie Times