January 26, 2016
Four young men, Zach (Michael Pitt), Warren (Christopher Abbott), Bryce (Rob Brown) and Noah (Dan Stevens), become partners in a risky stock market investment that involved insider information. When that investment went bust, it was revealed that their financier was actually a mob boss named Eddie Lovato (John Travolta). Of course, Lovato wanted his money back. However, since the boys cannot pay up, he offers them to perform a task that would erase their big debt, but would further plunge the four into further criminal activities.
I know, that short synopsis also sounded so commonplace. However, I cannot tell you more details as it would spoil the intricate plotting with twists and turns which were riveting to follow. While you will feel the influences of other mob films in there, particularly Quentin Tarantino, in the graphic violence, dirty language and dark humor, I thought the execution of director-actor Jackie Earle Haley was on-point. I hardly felt a lull in the story development as I was kept hanging on to each word and scene. In fact, when the film reaches its crafty epilogue, you may even want to go watch it all over again.
John Travolta is his usual hammy self here, with a distractingly stiff combed-up hairstyle to boot -- perfect for how his slimy character should be played. Michael Pitt played the Alpha male of the group Zach with such annoying hyper-ness, so spot on. Dan Stevens also did well playing Noah, the nerdy one who struggled to get in with the clique. My favorite performance though belonged to the cool as ice portrayal of the kidnap victim Marques by Edi Gathegi. Gathegi, whom I only saw before as Laurent in the "Twilight" films, was really good here with his suave and smart delivery of lines.
On the surface, this new film may not seem very promising. "Criminal Activities" had such a generic title and generic poster, one would probably pass it up as another B-action flick. The only big name in the cast is John Travolta, and these days are not exactly the best days of his career as far as his movie roles go. However, I still gave it a go (honestly, because it was the only one that fit my schedule), and wow, was I pleasantly surprised! This film was actually good -- very good, in fact. Give it a go. 7/10.