Would-be crook in the limelight
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 22, 2011
Unlike life, in Hollywood there are only a couple of kinds of crime. There are crimes of commission, for example, like a bank heist. And crimes of omission, like, say, the failure to follow your dreams, no matter where they lead.
Both varieties lie at the center of “Henry’s Crime,” a felony of a movie starring Keanu Reeves as a toll collector-turned-bank robber who discovers, along the way, that he also possesses a natural talent as a stage actor.
And that’s only the least of many credulity-straining elements in this tedious and improbable comedy-drama from director Malcolm Venville (“44 Inch Chest”).
Set in an appropriately bleak and gritty Buffalo, “Henry’s Crime” asks us to believe, for starters, that a previously law-abiding citizen would, after serving a couple of years for a bank robbery he didn’t commit, suddenly decide to rob the very same bank. But that’s what happens to Henry (Reeves), a sad sack who is sent to prison after being found, unwittingly, behind the wheel of a getaway car. (He thought he was on his way to a softball game.) While in jail, he meets Max (James Caan), a hard-boiled lifer who shares this bit of life-changing illogic: If you do the time, you might as well have done the crime.
Upon being paroled, Henry takes that bad advice to heart, when he learns that there is an old Prohibition-era tunnel that runs from the bank’s vault to the theater next door. The same theater where, coincidentally, an actress named Julie that Henry has just met (Vera Farmiga) is starring in Chekhov's “The Cherry Orchard.”
Before long, Henry has enlisted the aide of Max (now also paroled) in a scheme to dig from the theater to the bank. But for that, he and Max need to have a reason to hang around backstage every day. Max engineers that by offering his services to the stage manager as an unpaid volunteer. And Henry engineers that by being so good at helping Julie run her lines that he gets himself cast in a major role.
Need I mention that the theme of “The Cherry Orchard” is letting go of the past? Or that the job of toll collector entails watching other people go somewhere, while you yourself are stuck in the same spot? Or that the Buffalo setting allows for a visit to Niagara Falls, where Henry and Julie can have a conversation about taking risks, and “bodies churning and caught in the current”? Here’s a tip: They’re not just talking about all the people who have jumped into the water.
But let us not belabor all the heavy-handed symbolism. That’s the job of screenwriters Sacha Gervasi and David White, who never met a cliche they didn’t like.
Never mind the fact that, in a theater crawling with temperamental actors and crew, no one seems to notice the sound of pickaxes and shovels disrupting every rehearsal — and one climactic performance — let alone the mountain of dirt that is being shifted, via dumbwaiter, to the building’s roof.
The absurd, unrecognizable behavior; the hackneyed themes; it is all, in a word, criminal.
Contains obscenity, brief drug use, sensuality and some violence.