Movie review of “Criminal Activities”: This sneaky, snaky little crime thriller has some pretty impressive plot twists. John Travolta stars. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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“Criminal Activities” is a sneaky, snaky little crime thriller with some pretty impressive plot twists.

It’s a tale of four young middle-class buddies who find themselves way out of their depth when forced into a kidnapping scheme by a smooth-talking mob boss.

The big dog in the cast is John Travolta, whose performance as the top crook is a variation of similar baddies he’s played in the likes of “Broken Arrow,” “Swordfish” and “The Taking of Pelham 123”: commanding, confident, manipulative, ruthless.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Criminal Activities,’ with John Travolta, Michael Pitt, Rob Brown, Dan Stevens, Edi Gathegi, Christopher Abbott, Jackie Earle Haley. Directed by Haley, from a screenplay by Robert Lowell. 94 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains violence, language, nudity, sexual situations). Sundance Cinemas (21+).

The four dupes (played by Michael Pitt, Rob Brown, Dan Stevens and Christopher Abbott) are corralled into his kidnap plot, thanks to a $200,000 loan unwisely entered into by one of their number for which they’re all on the hook to pay Travolta’s character back. Or Else.

Recriminations abound as they try desperately to do the gangster’s bidding and avoid that deadly Or Else. Adding to their distress is their kidnap victim, a guy from a rival gang played by Edi Gathegi. He’s psychologically shrewd and knows what buttons to push to try to turn the friends against one another.

But the real star is Jackie Earle Haley, making his directorial debut and also playing the Travolta character’s chief enforcer. Being a longtime actor himself, he gets fine performances from his ensemble. And he seems to be having a ball playing the enforcer with a small grin and an amused calm as he watches the dupes squirm.

There are agendas hidden within agendas here, and nothing is quite as it seems. Its unpredictability makes “Criminal Activities” an unexpected treat.