'Henry's Crime': A Boredom Misdemeanor
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Mixing a heist caper with a backstage romantic comedy, "Henry's Crime" stars Keanu Reeves as Henry, a sad-sack schlub who works as a toll booth collector. His wife (Judy Greer) is thinking of kids, but after some friends needing a lift to a softball game rush out of the car to rob a bank instead, he's sent to prison for three years. Henry's life is so stifling, so ill-formed, that it is supposed to seem like a good idea for him to go to prison instead of protesting he didn't do anything. This is the first time we bristle at Sacha Gervasi and David N. White's screenplay: We can glimpse how things are bad for our hero, but the idea they're worse than federal time is a bit silly. And much of the film rolls along in that wheezy, phony way. You wish anyone on either side of the camera had a cup of coffee and then the energy to throw out weak scenes and flawed motivations while picking up the pace.
Released from prison -- and never naming the "friends" who got him in his jam -- Henry not only becomes obsessed with actually robbing the bank he was arrested in front of, but enlists his old cell-mate Max (James Caan) to help him: "If I did the time ... I might as well do the crime." Henry's plan involves a theater across the way with a Prohibition-era tunnel that runs to the bank, a theater where the actress Julie (Vera Farmiga), who met Henry by chance as he was casing the bank, is about to play the female lead in a production of "The Cherry Orchard."
Directed by Malcolm Venville, whose "44 Inch Chest" featured a shouty, splenetic, sweaty all-star cast of British blokes, "Henry's Crime" is a more lazy, poky affair. It dawdles when you want it to jump, skips when you want it to sizzle. If Venville wanted to make a crime film, he needed to go darker and starker; if he were making a caper comedy, he needed to go lighter and brighter. Instead, Henry and his crew work their plan under dour, steel-gray Buffalo skies and plod their way through three "twists" anyone who's seen more than a fistful of movies in his or her life can predict.
Reeves brings his usual handsome, halting tentativeness to the part, briefly showing life when Max determines the best way to get the needed level of access to the tunnel is for Henry to step into the lead role of the production and the tunnel-adjacent dressing room that goes with it. Working opposite Julie as their affection turns to romance and discovering life upon the stage, will Henry choose the possibility of joy over dreams of vengeance?
And if you're rolling your eyes at the tired, cliché phrasing of that question, imagine what you'll do as it plays out, even more tired and cliché, on-screen. Farmiga is, as ever, welcome -- as Warren Zevon said, "she's good around the eyes," human and sexy in a way we don't often get to see on the big screen. Caan is cagey as ever. His lifer conman, like Henry, appreciates their plot not necessarily as a source of income but, rather, as a source of purpose.
"Henry's Crime" is weighed down by plodding, lead-footed literalism and a couple of metaphors so obvious they'd get you hurled out of a freshman creative writing class. The soundtrack's singles -- by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the Budos Band and other Daptone Records artists -- gives the film a little secondhand swagger and funk, but not enough to make for its lazy pace and rote structure. The biggest crime here isn't on-screen; rather, it's in the theater, where Venville and his cast perpetrate the theft of your time without so much as a moment of excitement or charm left in its place.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.