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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jan 27, 2016

Criminal Activities Review: A Dark Comedy About Amateur Kidnappers Where Nothing Goes As Planned

‘CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES’ is a dark comedy cum thriller about amateur kidnappers that seems to want to pay a nod to Quentin Tarantino. Four friends (Michael Pitt, Rob Brown, Christopher Abbott and Dan Stevens) get reunited after the untimely death of a former college classmate. They’re all in need of money but Rob says he has a surefire stock market tip that can help them all financially. Dan says he can borrow money for all of them and they all agree to the deal.

But the tip turns out to be a dud and now they have to pay the money back. Worse, it turns out Dan borrowed the money from the mobster Eddie (John Travolta) who wants to get his money back or else. Since they cannot do so, then they have to do a job for Eddie: they’ll abduct the brother of a rival mobster so he can be exchanged for a relative of Eddie who’s being held hostage.

They then kidnap Marquez (Edie Gathegi) in the most inept way, taking him from a bar’s men’s room then stuffing him inside a car’s trunk. What follows turns out to be a comedy of errors. Nothing goes as planned for the neophyte kidnappers, who are actually a bunch of idiots who get more than what they bargain for. So many other factions are after Marquez and it only gets worse and worse. But then, there’s a very big twist in the narrative that turns everything upside down. It turns out everything is just deliberately being orchestrated by someone who wants revenge for being severely bullied in the past.
If you go for this kind of very contrived material, then you just might enjoy the movie. But the third act that is full of surprises is something we personally can’t buy. Which is too bad since the actors are quite competent, especially by John Travolta who, despite his very obvious wig with its age-defying hairline, echoes his role as Chili Palmer in “Get Shorty”. He tries to be campy, quoting Shakespeare and even explaining what he says are the seven rules of economics. Another standout here is Dan Stevens, the British actor who is best known for “Downton Abbey”. He shows he has remarkable range after doing his crazy role here and “A Walk Among the Tombstones” where he played a drug trafficker.

The movie is the directorial debut of actor Jackie Earle Haley, who also appears as Travolta’s brutal henchman. He tries to make hisfirst movie quite stylish like “Pulp Fiction”, coming up with short flashback scenes that are meant to be hilarious and even quoting Proust, but sorry, everything, even the shocking graphic violence he often resorts to on screen, just falls flat.