If you looked at the poster of this movie you could be forgiven for thinking that it is a thriller featuring primarily John Travolta in some type of Don Corleone role. There are two differences you need to know about then. One, it’s a black comedy and two, John Travolta probably completed all of his scenes in a few days. Hell, if someone told me he filmed his scenes in one day, I’d believe them. Oh and as well as starring in it, Jackie Earle Haley makes his directorial debut with this one.
After a man is killed by a bus, his estranged high school friends reunite at his funeral to catch up – Dan Stevens, Michael Pitt, Christopher Abbott and Rob Brown. They plot an investment in some once in a lifetime stocks, but need $200,000 to invest to bring back their money ten fold. Of course, the company they invest in gets liquidated by the state for using unscrupulous methods and the friends get screwed. John Travolta, the mob boss who loaned them the money, wants every dime back, twice as much in fact, $400,000. They don’t have it. Travolta then forces them to kidnap a relative of one of his rivals (Kenyan actor Edi Gathegi). Jackie Earle Haley is Travolta’s henchman, to fill in the screen time they can’t afford Travolta for, see.
In tone I would best describe this as a bush league riff on an earlier Guy Ritchie movie (remember when he made good movies?), an engaging farce with some genuinely funny back/forth and some really good acting – it looked like Haley had a good set there, everyone was on cue and having fun, this translated well to the screen. Even Travolta enjoys himself and the scene where he beats a man guilty of domestic abuse with an iron bar is a highlight for this one.
While it’s a good premise, four greenhorns being forced to kidnap the relative of one of nutjob Travolta’s rivals and hold him for 24 hours, the question is what next? In ‘Criminal Activities’ there is no answer to that question. The first half is damned good, the second half has no direction and is aimless. You have four guys sitting in a room with their hostage exchanging profanities whilst Haley knocks on doors and threatens Travolta’s opposition.
To tie things up, we get the tacked on twist. The kind that was clearly not intended from the beginning but attempts to pull the rug from under our feet and impress us with this whole new take on what we’d just seen for the previous 90 minutes. It may think it’s smart but it completely renders what we’d sat through redundant and a waste of time. Trust me, you will neither care nor be impressed. 60 minutes of tie-ups are crammed into a three minute epilogue in an attempt to prepare an unfinished script for movie production.
A shame, Jackie Earle Haley knows how to make a movie look more expensive than it is.