Monday 7 March 2016


Directed by Jackie Earle Haley and starring John Travolta, Dan Stevens and Michael Pitt, Criminal Activities is out now on DVD and VOD.

Reuniting at the funeral of one of their former classmates, a group of young men catch up on what they've been doing with their lives since college, trying to one up each other in terms of financial success. Seeing an opportunity to make some money, they collectively follow a tip to buy some Medicare shares at a discount price, but when the deal goes wrong they find themselves in debt to local mobster Eddie Lovato (John Travolta). He's willing to wipe the slate clean if they perform a job for him, kidnapping a local rival and holding him hostage.

There's a well worn formula for mob thrillers like this, and Criminal Activities does not deviate from it in terms of the mostly inconsequential nature of the setup. There's a fairly long winded explanation that is quickly skipped through as to why these guys would kidnap somebody, but Haley's script is smart enough to realise this isn't particularly important to the plot, because like all movie kidnappings things never go to plan.

Best known as a character actor who specialises in creepy guys you'd cross the street to avoid, Jackie Earle Haley serves as director (as well as a small but memorable role as Travolta's chief henchman) and he appears to have a good eye. The film moves at a pace that doesn't allow you to stop and over analyse things, and Haley has been blessed with a cast who are game for anything.

Travolta (front and centre on the DVD cover but in actuality in quite small role) is clearly having fun hamming it up as an over the top mobster/"legitimate Italian businessman", and in a golden age of terrible Travolta wigs, this one's a blinder. The bulk of the story falls upon the bickering central cast of five, with Edi Gathegi relishing every line of dialogue as the gangster kidnapped by the four desperate and out of their depth men. Michael Pitt is great at playing obnoxious, bratty, yuppie types like this, and Dan Stevens impresses as the boyish innocent who gets them into this mess. Lesser served in the ensemble are Christopher Abbott's blue collar alcoholic and Rob Brown's voice of reason, but they still have important roles to play in the wider story.

Lock, Stock meets Swimming With Sharks, it's an unashamed throwback to the twisty turny thrillers of early 2000s, complete with a goofy sense of humour, contrived set-ups and over the top characters. Never less than great fun, it's elevated above its straight to DVD status by an immensely satisfying finale that ties all the loose threads together and sheds new light on everything we've seen before.


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