Detroit, 1978. The dissatisfied, country-clubbing wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a cheating businessman (Tim Robbins) gets kidnapped for ransom out of her suburban home by a pair of goofball criminals (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey). Soon the hoods discover that the housewife is not quite the jackpot they expected. This realization is followed by a brisk combination of bloodshed and pratfalls. On the surface of it, director Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime may look like a spinoff of O. Henry’s classic The Ransom of Red Chief by way of American Hustle, but it’s Elmore Leonard all the way.
Taken from Leonard’s novel The Switch, Life of Crime is packed with compromised characters doing dumb things. Graying sugar daddy and real estate swindler Frank Dawson (Robbins), who drunk-drives a monstrous Cadillac, thinks he’s having fun on a “business trip” to the Bahamas with his pneumatic mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher). But bottom-feeder crooks Louis (Hawkes) and Ordell (Bey) know all his secrets, even if Frank’s bored wife Mickey (Aniston) does not. The afternoon Mickey gets snatched, lightweight golf course playboy Marshall (Will Forte) is putting the moves on her, unsuccessfully. Later, after a few nights imprisoned by Louis and Ordell in the home of a corpulent, sweaty American Nazi (scene-stealing Mark Boone Junior), Louis begins to look like George Clooney to her.
More than thirty of the late Leonard’s novels have been adapted for movies and TV, and Life of Crime fits comfortably into the top tier of the group, alongside Get Shorty, Jackie Brown (from Leonard’s Rum Punch), Out of Sight, Hombre, and The Tall T — this despite the lack of genuine belly laughs. Schechter doesn’t quite have the visual flair of Steven Soderbergh or Quentin Tarantino, but the cast compensates for that. Aniston reprises her randy We’re the Millers persona while Hawkes and Bey, deep in character, stumble in unison. The women in Life of Crime are smarter than the men. Surprise, surprise.