Henry’s Crime * ½
Directed by: Malcolm Venville.
Written by: Sacha Gervasi & David N. White.
Starring: Keanu Reeves (Henry Torne), Vera Farmiga (Julie Ivanova), James Caan (Max Saltzman), Judy Greer (Debbie Torne), Fisher Stevens (Eddie Vibes), Danny Hoch (Joe), Bill Duke (Frank), Peter Stormare (Darek Millodragovic).
I imagine that you could change very little about Henry’s Crime and make it into a terrific screwball comedy. This is the type of film that Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges or Ernst Lubitsch could have directed in the 1940s, and despite how ridiculous the plot is, made it into a comedy classic. The film should move at around 100 miles per hour, with whip smart, rapid fire dialogue. But Henry’s Crime takes its lead from it’s main character Henry (Keanu Reeves) who moves at about 10 miles per hour. He is so laconic in this movie that it practically puts you to sleep. I don’t really think it’s Reeves’ fault. Sure, he isn’t good in the film, but he plays the role the way it was written. But when you write a should be screwball comedy, with a laid back, lazy, zen like main character, you are pretty much doomed to failure.
Reeves is Henry, who works as a night toll booth operator in Buffalo. He comes home from work one morning, and just as he and his wife (Judy Greer) are getting into what we sense is an old argument about kids, there is a knock at the door. It’s Eddie (Fisher Stevens) and Joe (Danny Hoch), two old high school friends of Henry’s, who tell him they need him for a softball game that day. Despite the fact that’s its about 8 in the morning, and November (and Buffalo), Henry sees nothing wrong with this. Afterall, they do have uniforms. Slowly, much too slowly, Henry figures out that there is no softball game, and he’s really been enlisted as the getaway driver in a bank heist. Of course, Henry is arrested, and for reasons that I could never figure out, he doesn’t name names, so he ends up in jail.
If you have to go to jail, you want someone like Max (James Caan) as your cellmate. He’s a nice guy – an old con man, who has been in jail for more than 20 years, and plans to spend the rest of his life there. He’s comfortable in his routine. But Henry gets out after just over a year, but has nothing in his life. His wife left him while he was in jail (for Joe, one of the bank robbers who abandoned him no less), and as an ex-con, a job won’t be easy to find. But then he figures he should rob the bank he was arrested for robbing in the first place. If you’re going to do the time, you might as well do the crime. So Henry convinces Max not to throw his latest parole appeal, and help him out. He also meets Julie (Vera Farmiga), who is starring in a play in a theater across the street from the bank. When Henry finds out that there used to be a tunnel between the theater and the bank vault, he thinks he has found his way in. All he needs to do is get cast in the theater’s production of The Cherry Orchard. How hard could that be?
The problems with Henry’s Crime started at the writing stage, when they conceived a lead character who was so passive. How can we possibly relate, or like, a character who is so blasé he doesn’t even care that he is going to jail, or that his wife leaves him for one of the people responsible for putting him there? Henry just simply lets everything wash over him, drifting from one scenario to another. The problems were compounded by director Martin Venville, who doesn’t seem to recognize the comic possibilities of the movie, and decides to direct it at a snail’s pace. And in the casting of Keanu Reeves, who is already one of the most passive actors around. Put him in a role like this and it’s coma inducing.
You can see James Caan and Vera Farmiga trying to draw some life out of their characters, but to no avail. You can see that Fisher Stevens wants to be let loose and do the kind of broad, screwball character he’s best at. And Peter Stomare, as the Russian director of the play, has pretty much decided to act in his own little movie, of which he is the star. At least he shows some life.
But that’s mainly what is missing from Henry’s Life – life. The film simply drifts by, so that by the end of the movie you realize just how little happened in the movie. And how much you simply do not care.