Jumping from average romcom to average romcom with all the enthusiasm of a bored teenager slogging through their homework, Jennifer Aniston just keeps on trucking. Romcoms are all well and good for some, but ever since Friends wrapped up at the turn of the millennium hers has been a career in slow but steady decline. To that effect, Life of Crime is actually a pretty pleasant surprise, with Aniston swapping her usual Girl Next Door role for that of a beleaguered housewife taken hostage by a trio of barely competent crooks. That’s not to say the film’s any good, but I’d much rather watch Aniston try (and largely fail) to work outside her usual range than have to sit through Along Came Polly 2: Rodolfo’s Revenge.
Life of Crime plays out like a sub-par companion piece to David O. Russell’s American Hustle – which in itself was Martin Scorsese lite, making this Scorsese lite lite. It’s full on 1970’s suburban America: the cars are big, the hair is bigger and the outfits are equal parts garish and revealing. Aniston plays the jaded wife of a dirty-dealing millionaire asshole (Tim Robbins), a husband so rubbish that his wife’s kidnapping is less a cause for action and more a minor issue plaguing his vacation in the Bahamas. It’s part farce, part drama and occasionally full on slapstick, but never manages to do any of the three well enough to live up to its promise.
It’s a shame, too, because Aniston is heading up a pretty crack ensemble cast. Her kidnappers are played by Mos Def, John Hawkes and Mark Boone Junior, with a catty Isla Fisher and Will Forte in full on wuss-mode (complete with rubbish mustache) rounding out a group that’s practically bursting at the seams with talent. They all put in a shift, but Aniston seems unable – even when presented with material that is all but revolutionary by her standards – to ditch the well-worn ticks she’s been hashing out for over 20 years now. It’s a role that required haggard gravitas to work, but Aniston just spends the whole film in a slightly incredulous strop.
The script follows in the same vein as Aniston’s performance, opting to flirt with the interesting and the original, but never grasp them. The tone is scatter-shot, with scenes of levity cutting to an (actually pretty shocking) rape sequence, meaning that neither the actors nor the plot are able to settle into any kind of groove. There aren’t enough laughs for it to be a proper comedy and there isn’t enough depth for it to be a proper drama, leaving much of the film hovering in this kind of uncertain tonal limbo, refusing to throw itself fully behind its ideas in favour of uncomfortable shuffling.
The components are all there – a varied and talented cast, a caper-farce setup, a lead eager to prove that she’s more than just Rachel from Friends – but it never comes together. There’s just no energy there, no brio, no balls. It’s a film that passes you by with an awkward shamble when it should be performing an elaborate jig – truly great farces are imbued with a constant energy that never lets up, Life of Crime is an hour and a half of well-shot downtime. The zany hijinks feel muted, the period soundtrack bland, and the larger-than-life characters minimized. It’s not quite a cinematic non-entity, but it’s not much better.
That’s not to say that Life of Crime is without merit entirely. The film certainly looks the part, with pretty meticulous period detail and enough nifty camerawork to keep even the more static scenes engaging. That said, its misjudged nods to its significant influences just leave you dreaming of better films. One particular long-shot tracking a character through a restaurant screams Goodfellas so hard it almost hurts – why would such an uninspired film try to remind me of something so much better? If you’re going to give me Jennifer Aniston, the least you can do is not hold up Lorraine Bracco for comparison.
To quote irritated parents across the globe, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” Life of Crime had such promise, and I was oh-so-ready to be impressed, but the end result was a bit of a letdown. It’s not the worst film you’re going to see all year by any stretch, but the heights it could have reached make the lows all the harder to endure. This isn’t the career shake up Aniston so badly needed, and it certainly isn’t anywhere near the sum of its parts – it’s not much of anything really. It’s just kind of there, self-consciously twiddling its thumbs before floating off into the ether on a tide of muffled boredom.