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Henry's Crime Review: Neo vs. Chekhov: Bullsh*tastic

By Brian Prisco | Film | April 22, 2011 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | April 22, 2011 |

Henry’s Crime plays out like a lost Woody Allen script, buried in a landfill in upstate New York and then suddenly unearthed. The ravages of time have played havoc with the half-life of the humor, and so all that remains is the completely implausible plot. If I had only read the first ten pages of the script, like the person who cast Keanu Reeves as the headliner, I would have thought it was a slam dunk decision. Right up until the part where he’s supposed to play Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard. It’s a mid-life crisis rom-com conning you into thinking it’s a wacky heist film. If you pause to think for even a moment, and look around at what’s happening, the plot falls apart like a Sorny Home Theater system. Which is odd, considering the screenplay comes from Sacha Gervasi, who directed the delightful Anvil! The Story of Anvil!. Director Malcolm Venville uses the same tactic he attempted with 44 Inch Chest: To throw massive amounts of recognizable names at a script that doesn’t deserve them, and then not bother with having a cohesive plot and praying to God that the script’s wit will course through. Didn’t work then, and it certainly doesn’t work now. The result is something akin to what would happen if you fell out the other ear of John Malkovich’s head, and ended in one of the vast tracts of contaminated and spoiled wasteland along the Jersey Turnpike. There are moments and performances that are wonderful, but all you need to know comes from the tagline on the poster: “The Real Crime Is Not Committing To Your Dreams.” That’s like something you’d read on the slip of paper in the fortune cookie that was the tipping point to giving you diabeetus.

Since no one is ever going to see this, aside from stumbling across it on one of the distant planets of the cable universe or by getting duped by the faulty recommendation borg of Netflix, I’m going to earn my commercial driver’s license slaloming this 18-wheeler through the gaping plot holes. If you really intend on catching this some time, feel free to enjoy my whimsical ramblings at a later date. Henry Torne (Keanu Reeves) is a toll booth collector in upstate New York,; Buffalo to be exact. (You know? Home of a shlockey team capable of out-dirrty playing the Flyers. Fuck you, Sabres, with a sabretoothed tiger armed with a sabre.) Henry’s life philosophy is to pretty much go with the flow, to never rock the boat or fight with anyone. While this could be an interesting character trait in any other screenplay, in Henry’s Crime it lazily transforms Henry into a pointless doormat, a human punching bag and test monkey for the cosmetic shit of those around him. It’s what prompts Henry to accept it when his nurse wife Debbie (Judy Greer) tells him she wants children. Or when a sketchy high school acquaintance, Eddie Vibes (Fisher Stevens, looking like a feral ferrety Calista Flockhart) shows up on his doorstep in softball gear, toting a vomiting pug-faced cohort Joe (Danny Hoch), asking if Henry would step in to play in the championship game. In November. In Buffalo.

Of course, this is all a set-up. They ask Henry to park outside Buffalo Savings Bank so they can “run in an grab some beer money.” And ask him to “leave the car running.” All the guys leap out of the car and head in. Henry then notices that the steering column has been torn open and that the wires are hotwired. At this point, you’d wonder how the fuck Henry would be driving a stolen car for that long before he’d happen to notice that it was a stolen car, but that’s Henry, he just drifts along like the flotsam of life. He’s parked at a light, while the three other fellas throw on ski masks and go bolting into the bank. The aging security guard Frank (Bill Duke) is across the street picking up coffee at the local cafe. He notices the men running out of the bank — completely avoiding the car for some odd reason — and sees Henry sitting in the car. He draws down on Henry, and that’s how our friend goes to jail for the titular Henry’s Crime. Refusing to turn evidence on his buddy pal friend asshole, Henry goes into stir for three years. He’s given an old con man as a cellmate, Max Saltzman (James Caan), a lifer who loves being in prison and fakes being crazy at every parole opportunity. Affable Henry and Max are destined to get along as Keanu slowly grows a beard, finds out that his wife has fallen in love with someone else — namely pukey Joe, the drunk who bailed and got Henry jailed — and seems totally cool with everything. Everything’s Zen isn’t just the name of a Bush song (the band for whom Sacha Gervasi used to be the drummer) it’s pretty much how Henry rolls through life. He’s paroled, homeless, jobless, and ready to move on with his life. And that’s when he gets hit by the car.

In what is destined to be an animated gif forevermore, while meandering across the street to the very bank that he had been accused of robbing, Keanu Reeves gets hipchecked by a car. This introduces us to Julie Ivanova (Vera Farmiga), a local actress famous for her Buffalotto ads and who is headlining at the local theatre in the production of The Cherry Orchard. It’s the worst meet-cute in the history of cinema, more so for the fact that the charming and effervescent Vera Farmiga as Julie has to be wasted in this particular movie, in this particular scenario, at this point in her life. It’s a complete 180 on her character in Up In The Air, but with all the charm and lovability. She yells at Henry for standing in the road, while placating to ensure that he’s okay and doesn’t want to sue. Frank helps up Henry, recognizes him as the old bank robber, and they make their way to the cafe so Julie can buy him a coffee, and then leave for rehearsal. Because ol’ don’t mind me Henry even lets the fact that he was rundown roll off water-like from the duck’s ass where this story was generated.

And if you thought the movie was jackassery before, here’s where the things get even fucking stupider. While peeing in the cafe restroom, Henry sees an old newspaper framed on the wall explaining how during prohibition, a tunnel once ran from the Orpheum theatre — where they are rehearsing Chekhov — to the bank’s vault. And since one of the other cinematic gem themes of the film is “If you’ve done the time, you mine as well do the crime,” Henry decides to do his crime. Buckle up, kids, here’s where the percentage incline gets particularly hilly. First, Henry goes to prison to tell Max that he wants his help to break into the vault, convinces him to accept his parole, and then enlists him and his “con man” powers to help him. Which somehow works, and two convicts end up living together in a Buffalo apartment. Max isn’t a particularly smooth con man, but the script’s already so stupid, nobody really seems to mind falling for his dupe. It’s James Caan, motherfucker! Playing kooky!

Henry walks into a professional theatre rehearsal, unmolested, and brings along with him an old man. They get a tour of the bulding, Henry tells Julie he was a criminal, and they make a date for Chinese food to start them on their romantic entanglement. Because when you’re going to use a theatre as a cover to break into a bank, you always want to tell everyone. And do it during a fucking rehearsal. Max decides that they need to get into the dressing rooms. So he offers to volunteer. He also gets one of the actors to quit the production so Henry can be part of the production. That’s right. To break into the vault, they need Keanu Reeves to be in The Cherry Orchard. And they somehow convince the volatile director (the delightful Peter Stormare), who spends most of the movie telling Julie why she’s a shit actress, that yes, cast this wooden and emotionless man in your play.

Oh, it’s not done being stupid. They need a third man to help dig and move the dirt up the dumbwaiter to the roof of the playhouse. Which they do. In the middle of rehearsals, apparently. Through a giant hole they bashed in the wall of the dressing room at a semi-professional theatre that belongs only to Keanu Reeves. But they need a third man. So they enlist Joe, the drunk who’s put a baby in Henry’s ex-wife and who’s trying to make money running a pyramid scheme based on Korean tupperware. So things are going swimmingly, and that’s when Frank wants in. Frank decides to be inside man, and tells them that there’s a monthly currency exchange where the bank will have millions and millions of dollars and it’s a one time deal because he’s going to retire. It also happens to be on OPENING NIGHT OF THE CHERRY ORCHARD. So they plan on breaking into a bank vault during the opening night production of the play, which Henry will assist with in between acts, and have nobody notice. Oh, did you forget about Fisher Stevens? Eddie weasels his way in, saying he won’t dig, but he wants money. Eddie’s contribution is to use welding equipment to actually break into the vault. I don’t know how they planned on doing it otherwise. Even though he’s a shit, Eddie’s clearly the only one who knows how to break into a vault and operate the necessary equipment. But why does it matter? Because it’s going to turn into a fucking ridiculous rom-com at any moment….now.

I can’t even type the ending which is so putridly stupid and ends on the worst jarring note since Eyes Wide Shut. I’ll say this much. It ends onstage, after the inevitable doublecross. I just … I can’t even. Henry’s Crime, whether you want to call it a drunk Wes Anderson at bar closing time vomiting up weak David Foster Wallaceisms to get into a pastel hipster’s boyshorts or a faux Woody sans the Hebraic humor, ultimately amounts to a steaming Buffaload of shit. Keanu Reeves stays static throughout, giving an almost haunting Klaatu performance. Only in a goatee and quoting Chekhov. Vera Farmiga is luminescent, and everyone else at least seems to be having a blast twofisting scenery with wing sauce and collecting a paycheck. I’d expect better from Sacha Gervasi, and maybe a little more from Malcolm Venville. But there’s not much you can do with a dumbshit plan. You gotta go with the flow and follow your dreams to the light at the end of the tunnel. Even when you’re clearly in a sewage canal.