“Life of Crime” is slickly made but blandish adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel “The Switch.” As usual Leonard’s bad guys are more interesting than the straights. The trick here is figuring out who the bad guys are.
Jennifer Aniston is Mickey, the trophy wife of the abusive and corrupt Frank Dawson. Outwardly they have the perfect marriage, but at home trouble is brewing. At home, at least when Frank isn’t off doing “business” at his hideaway in the Bahamas, tending to his girlfriend Melanie (Isla Fisher) and off shore bank accounts.
When two low-rent criminals, Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def) kidnap Mickey they hadn’t counted on Frank using their plan as a quickie divorce. No ransom, no alimony. Cue the double crosses and intrigue.
The major selling point here is the dialogue. Leonard was a master of the backroom criminal dialogue and here they have the good sense to keep most of his snappy words intact. Hawkes and Bey are particularly adept at delivering the goods, mouthing the words as if they were Leonard’s illegitimate children. Robbins is convincing as the sleazy land developer and Fisher is a femme fatale in the making. The weak link is Aniston, who seems like she might have calibrated her performance for the similarly plotted “Ruthless People” rather than a down-and-dirty crime drama.
Like many of Leonard’s stories “Life of Crime” tends to favor the characters who live on the down low. Hawkes and Bey—despite their association with a neo-Nazi (Mark Boone Jr.)—are treated as the sensitive heroes of the piece, while everyone else is playing some sort of game. It makes for interesting character dynamics but doesn’t sit as well here as it did in “Get Shorty” or “Out of Sight.”