Film Review: Henry's Crime

Terminally silly: Chekhov, a bank heist and Keanu Reeves make an uneasy, unfunny cinematic equation.

In Buffalo, Henry (Keanu Reeves) is a toll collector who unwittingly becomes the fall guy in a disastrous bank heist, for which he goes to jail. There, he meets Max (James Caan), a hoosegow vet, who makes Henry realize that his purposeless life needs an essential, motivational dream.

Upon his release a year later, Henry finds his dream in the form of an old bootlegger's tunnel which runs from that same bank to a theatre. He convinces Max to get his overdue parole to help him out with this new, hopefully successful robbery. The two infiltrate the theatre, which is in the process of clumsily staging Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Henry falls in love with the play's leading lady, Julie (Vera Farmiga), and gets cast in the play, all the while scheming to dig his way towards the money.

Got all that? There's more, but why belabor it? Sacha Gervasi and David White's screenplay is rife with deadpan whimsy and quirky characters—yet another film, convinced of its own cleverness, that was probably more fun for the cast and crew to make than the audience to watch. Malcolm Venville's direction is, unfortunately, all too complicit in the relentless quirkiness. Despite their strenuous efforts, there's not a single real laugh to be found in the entire thing. And you've got to wonder: What the hell did poor Anton Chekhov ever do to deserve this?

Reeves is in his late 40s, yet uncannily retains that puppyish stolidity he's always possessed histrionically. No matter the role, he is essentially Keanu the human cipher, with that slight, ever-present element of risibility when he tries to act, especially here, fake-bearded and oh-so-earnest, attempting Chekhov. Henry is probably meant to be something of a blank canvas, and Reeves meets those qualifications all too well.

Caan gives another of his twinkly, irascible codger performances we've seen too many times before. Peter Stormare hams it up tiresomely with a lousy Russian accent as Darek, an overbearing stage director. Fisher Stevens, Danny Hoch and Bill Duke bring their varied intensities as Henry's heist accomplices, to little real effect. Only the always reliable, ingratiating Farmiga manages to bring some kind of interesting performance rhythm to the flailingly silly material.