Life of Crime

Elmore Leonard’s 1978 novel The Switch almost became a movie 30 years ago, but it got beaten to the punch by the very similar action comedy Ruthless People. “I don’t think there’s a real big market for kidnap movies where the hostage winds up liking the kidnappers,” bragged the latter’s writer to the L.A. Times in 1985. Now we can see about that. Even still, Life of Crime, as writer-director Daniel Schechter’s modest adaptation of The Switch is called, does have a lot to live up to: The book’s sequel became the basis of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. The hostage here is played by Jennifer Aniston, still a little sitcomish after all these years but agreeable as the well-to-do housewife of a shakedown-deserving land developer played by Tim Robbins. What really counts, though, is that matter of liking the kidnappers, which she and we do because they’re played by Yasiin Bey (forevermore to be known as “formerly Mos Def”) and John Hawkes. These are the characters played in Jackie Brown by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro, two actors now deeply sunken into bombastic self-parody, whereas Bey and Hawkes still have sympathies to earn and talents to prove. True, humility might not be what most moviegoers want from Elmore Leonard adaptations now; if Steven Soderbergh’s hugely entertaining Out of Sight seems like the high-water mark, that’s partly thanks to the borderline-aggressive movie-star charisma of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. While Schechter takes the hairpin plot-turns more cautiously than more flamboyant and better-known directors might, leaving Aniston and supporting actors Isla Fisher and Will Forte seeming sometimes almost idle, at least Bey and especially the humble genius Hawkes get to make this movie very much their own.