Early in the dramedy “Term Life,” Vince Vaughn’s character, Nick Barrow, explains that he has an odd job: “I plan heists.” Right from the jump, the film declares its allegiance to the universe of pulp paperbacks, B-movies, and trashy syndicated TV, where every hero is an antihero and every criminal is a master.
However, director Peter Billingsley and screenwriter Andy Lieberman (adapting his own graphic novel) don’t always seem to know what kind of picture it is they’re making. “Term Life” is cleanly plotted and tautly paced, but it’s never as fun as it should be.
The title refers to an insurance policy. After one of his capers goes awry, Nick becomes the target of both the crooks he hurt and the people who secretly set him up. Figuring he’s a goner, Nick names his estranged daughter Cate (Hailee Steinfeld) as his beneficiary, and goes on the run with her, hoping to stay alive long enough for the insurance to kick in.
While the lifelong loner adjusts to having a teenage daughter around — with her bras and boys and snotty attitude — he takes advantage of the opportunity to explain what he’s learned about laying low and being a professional. Their little road trip becomes a bonding experience ... until the men with guns catch up to them.
Because Vaughn is also one of the producers of “Term Life,” the movie is star-studded. Scarcely a scene goes by without a familiar face in a minor role: Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Bill Paxton, Shea Whigham, Mike Epps, Jonathan Banks and others. Vaughn’s “Swingers” partner Jon Favreau even pops by for a pivotal cameo.
The cast energizes the film, which otherwise never builds much momentum — perhaps because it takes itself too seriously. Aside from an early joke about Nick’s dopey-looking haircut, there’s rarely any winking toward the audience, or much of a sense that the actors are getting a kick out of playing cops and robbers.
As a tough-talking shoot-'em-up, “Term Life” is perfectly serviceable — but ultimately unmemorable. And given the talent in front of the camera, that qualifies as a felony.
MPAA rating: R, for violence, and language including a sexual reference
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 8, Burbank; AMC Orange 30, Orange