Criminal Activities, we love them Crimeziners, especially when John ‘Chilli Palmer’ Travolta is involved. Travolta is in full on Elmore Leonard mode for this stylish cameo. But the great man is upstaged in virtually every shot, by his heavily architecturalized hair-helmet. No matter. His crazy dialogue that references Marcel Proust, Macbeth and economic theory 101 will have you snorting so loudly you will be distracted from this spectacle, at least momentarily.
Criminal Activities is the kind of b-grade crime flick that snooty film critics love to hate, but having said that it does have a large number of redeeming features.
The Get Shorty and Usual Suspects reference points are blatant and unashamed. No bad thing. But the collage of reference points often intrudes—threatening to overwhelm the narrative thrust of the movie—drowning out its identity with a deluge of cultural cleverness.
The movie kicks off when four college buddies, Noah (Dan Stevens), Zach (Michael Pitt), Bryce (Rob Brown) and Warren (Christopher Abbott)—reunite at a friends funeral. We never get to know our four foils, but that hardly matters, because pretty soon they are talking over an insider dealing scam that is going to make them rich, rich, rich!
But things go awry, almost immediately and our heroes are in hock to mobster Eddie, played by Travolta. Eddie suggests he will offer the boys a clean slate if they kidnap the nephew of a rival gang leader, who has taken Eddie’s niece hostage.
What could be easier? Unfortunately, Marques [Edi Gathegi] is wayyyy more gangster than our hapless heroes can handle. Yikes, Crimeziners! We have got ourselves a Reservoir Dogs style hostage situation! Sadly, the second act sags as glib verbosity apes Tarantino but over-eggs the Pulp Fiction pudding and quickly descends into the realm of self-parody.
Light-relief and more than a touch of menace is offered in the form of Jackie Earle Haley as hit man Gerry, a journeyman gunsel who is about the only member of the cast who doesn’t over act his way the unfolding shenanigans.
Writer Robert Lowell is to be commended for the Keyser Söze style ending, which gooses up the third act and changes this movie out from being a run of the mill farce into an altogether more stylish mélange of crimetastic set pieces. Derivative sure, but if you dig two-fisted gangster theatrics you will love Criminal Activities.