LIFE OF CRIME

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY TARA BRADY

Di­rected by Daniel Schechter. Star­ring Jen­nifer Anis­ton, Isla Fisher, Tim Rob­bins, Will Forte, Jon Hawkes, Mos Def, Mark Boone Jr

Club, IFI, Dublin, 94 min Mickey Daw­son (Jen­nifer Anis­ton) is a so­cialite who has learned to live with her hus­band’s many fail­ings, in­clud­ing drunk­en­ness, skirt chas­ing and poor parenting skills. When Mickey is snatched by doo­fus crim­i­nals Or­dell Rob­bie (Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes), the hor­ri­ble hubby (Tim Rob­bins) is in no hurry to cough up the ran­som fee. His schem­ing mis­tress, Melanie (Isla Fisher), isn’t go­ing to en­cour­age him, ei­ther.

Louis soon de­vel­ops a soft spot for his un­wanted vic­tim and takes care to shield her from the preda­tory ad­vances of his Nazi-loving co­hort Richard (Mark Boone Jr). Maybe, just maybe, Louis and Mickey can help each other out.

Daniel Schechter’s adap­ta­tion of the late El­more Leonard’s novel The Switch is as good an adap­ta­tion of Leonard’s comic crime mi­lieu as we’ve seen. The screen­play is deft. The char­ac­ters are in­hab­ited by peo­ple who can act, and, more im­por­tantly, who un­der­stand the source ma­te­rial.

Anis­ton makes for a won­der­ful ar­che­typal Leonard dame. Play­ing the dis­sat­is­fied house­frau of bul­ly­ing for­mer ten­nis pro­fes­sional, we’re never in any doubt that there’s a smart cookie lurk­ing un­der all that prag­matic pas­siv­ity. Mos Def, Hawkes and Fisher are so damned good we for­get they’re play­ing low-lifes first made fa­mous by Sa­muel L Jack­son, Robert De Niro and Brid­get Fonda back in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997).

So why is such a star-stud­ded af­fair re­ceiv­ing such a small re­lease almost an en­tire year after it pre­miered at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val? Tim­ing, alas, is not on its side. For all the qual­ity on of­fer, there’s lit­tle here that we haven’t seen many, many times be­fore. In fact, an ear­lier adap­ta­tion of The Switch that was to star Diane Keaton, was aban­doned due to the plot’s sim­i­lar­i­ties to Ruth­less Peo­ple. For good rea­son.

The beats and tics will seem aw­fully fa­mil­iar for any­one who has seen Jackie Brown or, in­deed, the Leonard-in­flu­enced Pulp Fic­tion. Schechter works hard at mak­ing the pic­ture look like a gen­uine 1970s arte­fact, only to end up re­peat­ing David O Rus­sell’s Amer­i­can Hus­tle and Tarantino (again).

En­joy­able, nonethe­less.

Di­rected by Syl­vain Chomet. Star­ring Guil­laume Gouix, Anne Le Ny, Ber­nadette La­font, Hélène Vincent

Paul (Guil­laume Gouix) is a cos­seted and mute pi­ano prodigy who lives with his two maiden aunts in a heav­ily stylised ver­sion of Paris. Paul’s life is reg­i­mented and dull un­til one day he runs into his ec­cen­tric up­stairs neigh­bour, (Anne Le Ny,), a witchy her­bal­ist with a big dog and a brew that, when in­gested while lis­ten­ing to mean­ing­ful mu­sic, con­jures mem­o­ries from the deep­est sub­con­scious.

Paul is soon vis­it­ing Madame Proust, as she is try­ingly called, on a reg­u­lar ba­sis as he at­tempts to re­cover frag­ments con­cern­ing the par­ents who dis­ap­peared when he was still a baby. But per­haps there’s a rea­son why his aunts never speak of them.

Oh dear. Writer-di­rec­tor Syl­vain Chomet is the Os­car-nom­i­nated an­i­ma­tor be­hind the de­light­ful Triplets of Belleville and The Il­lu­sion­ist. Oc­ca­sion­ally one can dis­cern the film-maker’s pres­ence in the woe­fully mis­con­ceived Atilla Mar­cel. As with Chomet’s doo­dles, the film plays out in a strange, time­less, par­ody ver­sion of France pop­u­lated by odd-look­ing peo­ple. Un­hap­pily, Chomet’s brand of bit­ter­sweet whimsy doesn’t trans­late well into live ac­tion.

Scenes and tran­si­tions that might be quirky and ar­rest­ing if drawn by hand are un­set­tling and some­times ghastly to watch when re-en­acted by ac­tors. Wob­bly rolls of fat and swoosh­ing pat­terned skirts don’t look nearly so jolly in the cor­po­real di­men­sion. Be­hav­iours, such as com­pul­sive eat­ing and spit­ting the stones from brandied cher­ries, are too car­toon­ish to ever al­low us to emotionally con­nect with any­thing on screen, even when the loosely as­sem­bled plot para­chutes in a tragedy or two.

Th­ese fail­ings might be for­giv­able if the songs that pad out Chomet’s quasi-mu­si­cal weren’t quite so abysmal. Per­haps some­thing has been lost in the trans­la­tion, but the lyrics are even more tune­less than the dron­ing dit­ties that support them.

Madame Proust serves madeleines (of course) to lessen the bit­ter­ness of her tea: “They’re plain,” she ex­plains to Paul. “Some add orange flower wa­ter, but that’s a bit gay”.

What an in­ter­est­ing pe­jo­ra­tive use of that word to find in a film pep­pered with al­lu­sions to Mar­cel Proust, of all peo­ple.

Club, IFI, Dublin, 102 min

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