In the back corridors of my increasingly overcrowded mind, I often think the most boring job in the world must be sitting on a stool all day in a claustrophobic box, wearing rubber gloves and collecting tolls on a turnpike. This is what Keanu Reeves does in Henry’s Crime and he never does find the key to making it look less brainless. When this movie debuted a year ago at the Toronto Film Festival, it was touted as “a gem of a comedy that consistently surprises.” This is odd, because Henry’s Crime is not exactly a gem, it is not remotely funny and the only surprise in it is finding Keanu Reeves in a role that requires some acting. The movie is not great, but the star is not bad. This, in some quarters, is high praise indeed.
Henry is a sad sack in Buffalo whose life at home is as unfulfilled as his job in the toll booth. He just goes with the flow, accepting the mundane as normal. Henry can be talked into anything–one night after a long day on the highway, he finds some slacker friends on his lawn in baseball uniforms, and even while driving them to the game, he doesn’t have the electrodes to realize they’re on their way to rob a bank and he’s being used as the getaway car. It’s no wonder he’s nabbed by the security officer on night duty as part of the holdup and sentenced to three years in prison for a felony he didn’t commit. But Henry is such a good guy that he never rats on the others to save himself. Henry’s cellmate, Max (James Caan), has a simple philosophy: “If you do the time, you might as well do the crime.”
By the time Henry finishes his sentence, his wife has remarried one of the jerks who used him as a fall guy, and all of his possessions have been stored away in a cardboard box. Remembering what Max taught him behind bars, he ends up in the alley next to the bank and decides to do it right. While he’s planning his strategy, Henry drops by the theater across the street, where a ragtag troupe of amateur thespians under the direction of a mad Russian (Peter Stormare) are rehearsing The Cherry Orchard. Against his will, he falls for Julie, the girl he’s been watching on a TV commercial for the Buffalo lottery, who is also playing Madame Ranevsky (another colorful performance by Vera Farmiga). Released from jail, Max joins him in his scheme with the aid of a newspaper article on a men’s room wall about a tunnel, sealed up 80 years ago, that connects the theater with the bank. The best way into the bank vault is to find the old tunnel and dig their way from underneath the theater. But poor Henry is too busy to dig–somehow he has to find a way to get his hands on all the money, join the cast and win the girl. When he accidentally lands the role of Lopakhin, despite having no previous acting experience, Henry is in love–with Julie, with crime and with Chekhov.
Considering the raucous, filthy “comedies” we’ve been getting lately, I appreciate the subtlety of Malcolm Venville’s direction, but there’s so much of it that Henry’s Crime often comes dangerously close to self-administered anesthesia. Mr. Reeves’ screen persona so often resembles sleepwalking that it’s good to see him wide awake in the scenes where the frustrated Mr. Stormare punches him, shoves him, screams in his face and tries to teach him how to act. The star does so well in such a dedicated ensemble that someday he might even actually play Lopakhin, the peasant who buys up Madame Ranevsky’s beloved childhood cherry orchard. But not in a production this preposterous. The movie’s ending falls badly to shreds, the screenplay by Sacha Gervasi and David White never really comes to life and the originality of the idea turns stale in a hackneyed conclusion. Close but no cigar.
Running time 107 minutes
Written by Sacha Gervasi and David White
Directed by Malcolm Venville
Starring Keanu Reeves, James Caan, Vera Farmiga