"She looks like a million bucks."
If you were to run into Life of Crime prior to having seen Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown then you probably wouldn't feel in the mood to see it considering Daniel Schechter's film is a bit of a letdown. Despite being a prequel to Jackie Brown, which was also based on Elmore Leonard's novel, this film doesn't have that same punch to it. This proves just how difficult it is to do what Tarantino does so well. Leonard always writes rich characters who at times seem quirky. He mixes black humor with action pretty well, but in Life of Crime that spark is missing. The film relies on a talented cast who make the movie a bit more entertaining, but the story simply fails to engage and at times everything seems so light and pointless. There is something phony about these characters and the plot which constantly reminds the audience that there isn't anything true or authentic about this world. For a film based on a Leonard novel, the characters don't seem to have much going for them either. These aren't the characters we fell in love with in films like Jackie Brown, Out of Sight, and Get Shorty which were all created by Leonard. If I had to compare it to another adaptation from a Leonard novel I would say this is much more similar to Armitage's The Big Bounce starring Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman. It is that disappointing no matter how much you like the cast here. Life of Crime doesn't have anything remarkable to say really, it simply is content with existing and perhaps trying to hook Jackie Brown fans along the way. The comedy doesn't work really well, while the vibe and tone of the film is way too silly to take the action seriously. Perhaps I was just familiar with the characters this time around and found the entire premise a bit too ridiculous, but the film simply didn't engage me as much as other Leonard adaptations have in the past.
Life of Crime's talented cast doesn't save this mediocre film, although they provide some enjoyment. The one who stands out is John Hawkes who plays Louis (Robert De Niro's character in Jackie Brown). It is remarkable how he can play such a scary and creepy role in one film and then all of a sudden you see how likable and sweet he can be in another. This time around, Hawkes is extremely likable and charming despite being a kidnapper. His partner in crime is Ordell (played by Mos Def in this film and Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown). Def is also charming in this film and the two play off one another extremely well. As thieves they are completely incompetent, but we still want them to succeed. The weak link in this film was Jennifer Aniston who plays Mickey, the wife who is kidnapped. She simply didn't sell the character. Tim Robbins plays her husband, Frank, who is having an affair with Isla Fisher's Melanie. So you can see how the kidnappers plans are ruined when they find out that the husband has no interest in paying the ransom. That is kind of the whole joke of the film. Will Forte and Mark Boone Junior give strong supporting roles as well and there were actually a few moments involving the two that stood out for me comedic wise. The film did open pretty strongly but it didn't seem to go anywhere and several elements were completely left out. For example, Mickey and Frank's son who was introduced in the opening scenes is completely left out of the picture during the ransom. It's as if director Schechter simply didn't know where to take the story once all the characters were introduced. I was a huge fan of Jackie Brown so I was quite disappointed with this prequel.