If Henry is guilty of anything, it's being a passive protagonist.
If Henry is guilty of anything, it’s being a passive protagonist. In spotty comedy/heist-movie hybrid “Henry’s Crime,” Keanu Reeves plays a dullard with a knack for finding himself in the wrong place nearly all the time. After taking the fall for his bank-robbing friends, Henry decides he might as well rob the bank himself, but he’s not proactive enough to maintain control of the operation; even a romantic subplot, featuring Vera Farmiga, begins after she hits him with her car. The cast will likely ensure a modest theatrical run — certainly nothing to break the bank — though there’s hope for homevid.
Henry, looking as bedraggled as the film’s Buffalo, N.Y., location (seen only through sunlight-starved blue lenses), has just returned from his dead-end tollbooth job when friends trick him into driving the getaway car for a bank robbery, then leave him to take the fall when the cops show up. Henry maintains his innocence and, rather than rat out the guys, goes to prison, where he shares a cell with the far more charismatic Max (James Caan, looking a lifetime removed from “Thief”).
Part of what makes Henry such a frustrating hero is how little he reveals of his emotions — a return to the wooden performance style that troubled Reeves’ early career. Coming home to find his wife (Judy Greer) pregnant and living with one of the stooges he protected (Danny Hoch), Henry just shrugs it off, a reaction that makes it hard to put a karmic value on what the universe owes him. At the very least, screenwriters Sacha Gervasi (“The Terminal”) and David White seem to think he deserves a more interesting love interest, which they address by orchestrating the fender-bending meet-cute between Henry and Farmiga, playing an aspiring actress named Julie whose screwball energy makes Henry’s apathy all the more apparent.
With nothing else to do, Henry visits one of Julie’s rehearsals for a production of “The Cherry Orchard” and discovers an old Prohibition-era tunnel connecting the theater directly to the vault of the bank his buddies robbed. Figuring that since he already did the time, he may as well do the crime, Henry enlists Max in a scheme that quickly spins out of control. Not only do his old accomplices (Fisher Stevens and Hoch) show up wanting in, but the whole operation relies on Max landing the lead role in the play, since the tunnel can only be accessed from the star’s dressing room. And that means winning over the play’s demanding director (Peter Stormare), keeping Julie happy and juggling the pic’s predictably unreliable criminal personalities.
While the absurdity builds, the intensity never does — a problem shared by director Malcolm Venville’s previous feature, “44 Inch Chest.” With a background in photography, rather than drama, the helmer chooses to operate within genre conventions while denying auds the thrills such pics usually provide. Thematically speaking, “Henry’s Crime” isn’t really a heist movie at all; rather, it’s the story of how a passive individual comes to take agency in his own life. But the wait for some force to compel the immovable Henry is especially frustrating when all that idle time involves characters as off-putting as these.
Paul Cameron’s gloomy widescreen lensing and a soundtrack brimming with tracks from Daptone Records make the black comedy’s mood hard to pin down, as if Venville were uncomfortably caught somewhere between blue-collar caricature and high-stakes tragedy.