August 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Life of Crime' can't find pulse behind its kooky characters

Jennifer Aniston gets kidnapped in 'Life of Crime.' (Roadside Attractions)

The trick to adapting an Elmore Leonard story for the screen is you have to be able to make all the eccentric characters seem human and all the screwy plot turns seem plausible.

Time has shown that to be a difficult trick indeed. With rare exceptions — “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty,” TV’s “Justified” — screen work based on the late author’s writing has been shaky, silly or downright dis-spiriting. Somehow Leonard made this stuff work, while most others can’t.

Director-screenwriter Daniel Schechter is the latest to take the plunge, transforming Leonard’s novel “The Switch” into the film “Life of Crime,” a movie that plays out in the goofy caper genre with very little feel of urgency. There’s a lot of talent up on screen put to no grand use.

A couple of low-level, amiable thugs (John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey) plot to kidnap the trophy wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a corrupt Detroit developer (Tim Robbins). After doing so and while holding her at the home of a neo-Nazi (Mark Boone Junior), they discover the developer has a sweetie (Isla Fisher) on the side and is suing his wife for divorce. He refuses to pay any ransom; the kidnappers can keep her.

It’s a nifty-enough package, and the film follows the crime’s inevitable unraveling, throwing in some nice betrayals and revelations along the way. But most of the characters come off cartoonish while Aniston’s character is written as such a blank that it’s hard to care what happens to her (even the character doesn’t seem to care).

The one shining light here is Hawkes, whose mellow criminal finds some sort of interior redemption. It’s the only thing that keeps the movie going, but it’s not enough.

'Life of Crime'

GRADE: C

Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence

Running time: 94 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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