Review: CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES, Now On Blu-ray And VOD
The first notion presented in Criminal Activities, the directorial debut of Watchmen's Jackie Earle Haley, is a common and precise one: life is unpredictable, one day you are here and the next moment you can be gone.
Even if the film literally begins with a sudden death, which makes a priest talk about said notion, we, as the audience, might feel that the script is sort of justifying the abrupt change in the course of its protagonists' lives. Four former high school friends reunite for the funeral of one of their schoolmates; they all have decent jobs, however, a few days after the funeral they will be involved in a matter of life or death, owning a ton of money to a local mob boss (John Travolta). Life can change in an instant, indeed.
Criminal Activities plays around with the fact that the inexperienced young men are on the verge of doing their first, well, "criminal activity," consisting in kidnapping for 24 hours a dangerous gangster, nephew of another notorious crime boss. If some cool professionals as the Reservoir Dogs didn't prevent their mission from becoming quite a mess, what can we expect from a bunch of amateurs?
For the most part, Criminal Activities is in the vein of fun crime movies, due to the playfulness that comes from having our not very clever protagonists facing an experienced criminal and, for instance, forgetting such vital things as food for the duration of the kidnapping. With a minimalist setting (all the main actions happen in one house), the film continues to work around the idea of adding unusual situations to the crime plot; for example, one of the friends (Michael Pitt) seems equally worried about the affair his fiancée might be having.
Robert Lowell's script is also full of speeches that, if we were in the 1990s, would be condemned as more Quentin Tarantino derived material: criminals giving riffs about karma or quoting William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Minor characters, like Travolta's boss and even the director's own hitman, add little to the major picture and work simply for the stylish or violent type of scenes.
In the end, Criminal Activities is really the struggle between two clear ideas. Everything in life happens for a reason ... or not? It appears Jackie Earle Haley and Lowell believe in the karma speech (done by the kidnapped gangster) and, in consequence, in this film nothing is what it seems. The messy story we experienced was really the flawless execution of a brilliant plan (yeah, it's one of those), which leads to a whole different lecture and a conclusion that is the equivalent of those long explanations in a condescending mindfuck.
The harmless crime flick becomes an exaggerated/unconvincing celebration of karma and of those "inoffensive" people who, against all odds and after many years, manage to triumph and give a dose of revenge.
The film is available as of today on Blu-ray and DVD, and is also available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms.