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Jackie Earle Haley's 'Criminal Activities' has fun with its mob ties

 Jackie Earle Haley's 'Criminal Activities' has fun with its mob ties
John Travolta in "Criminal Activities." (Grant F. Fitch)

There's more than a trace of Elmore Leonard involved in "Criminal Activities," a lively crime caper marking actor Jackie Earle Haley's directorial debut.

Not realizing that when something sounds too good to be true, chances are it is, four former school buddies (Michael Pitt, Dan Stevens, Rob Brown and Christopher Abbott) act on a hot insider trading tip regarding a pharmaceutical company stock, only to find themselves on the hook for $400,000.

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Worse, the mystery source to whom they're in debt turns out to be a powerful, menacingly waxy mobster (John Travolta) who's willing to forgive the loan in exchange for them kidnapping the nephew (Edi Gathegi) of a rival crime lord.

While the guys proceed to be in well over their heads, the actors, including the scene-stealing, mind-game-playing Gathegi, acquit themselves quite amusingly, as does director Haley, who also plays one of Travolta's henchmen.

Working from a glib, chatty script by Robert Lowell that's not as cleverly hatched as it likes to think it is, Haley whips it into something reasonably entertaining even as you start thinking about how truly great "Get Shorty" and Travolta's Chili Palmer were midway through those double-crossing criminal activities.

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'Criminal Activities'

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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