April 19, 2011

LIMITED RELEASE: “Henry’s Crime”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Watch It At Home:  Petty larceny.
Sometimes casting can be too good:  Keanu Reeves playing a guy who pretty much sleepwalks through his own life is practically redundant.  His whole style, from the very start of his career in the Bill and Ted pictures (more than 20 years ago!), has been to lag a step behind most other human beings.  One of the reasons he’s been effective as an Everyman in action movies like Speed is the humor that ensues from the tension between the insistent pace of the genre and Reeves’ perpetual glassiness; he just doesn’t seem as quick on the uptake as other heroes.  Even in The Matrix, the Reeves acting moment everyone remembers best is his stunned disbelief that he can do kung-fu (when the Warchowskis turned Neo into a messiah figure in the sequels, they blew the whole franchise).  So while director Malcolm Venville and the producers may have been thrilled to get Reeves–not only a box-office name but the seeming embodiment of their lead character–into the new HENRY’S CRIME, his presence takes a pokey movie and helps turn it into mush.
Henry Tome is a Buffalo toll-booth attendant manipulated by a (slightly) faster-thinking friend (Fisher Stevens) into taking part in a bank robbery, for which he’s the only one to do time.  Released from jail, he discovers a much better way to rob the same bank, and decides to do it, recruiting his former cellmate (James Caan), a lifetime con, to help him.  The plan requires tunneling into the bank from the theater across the street, which is staging a production of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” starring a small-time actress (the very big-time Vera Farmiga).  This leads Henry to join the cast of the play as a cover for the crime, and not too surprisingly to fall for the show’s lovely star.  

This is hardly Ocean’s Eleven, but it’s the same basic genre:  the light-hearted caper romance-comedy.  To make it work, you don’t necessarily need originality, but wit and pace (and grace) are essential.  In these,  Henry’s Crime is mostly lacking. Venville, whose only other film was the talky, violent 44 Inch Chest, never gets a rhythm going, and the script by Sacha Gervasi (who co-wrote Spielberg’s The Terminal) and David N White (mostly low-budget action movies) doesn’t supply much zing.  “Zing” isn’t a word associated with Keanu Reeves, and he drifts through his role as usual, somnolent even when his character is supposed to be coming to life.  In her supporting role, though, Farmiga is quite glorious (this picture makes you wish she could play Diane Wiest’s part in a remake of Bullets Over Broadway) and Caan brings a lot to his familiar old-time convict role.  Their work isn’t quite enough, though, to make the heist worth the price of a ticket.

(Henry’s Crime – Moving Pictures – R – 108 min. – Director:  Malcolm Venville – Script:  Sacha Gervasi, David N Green – Cast:  Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, James Caan, Fisher Stevens, Danny Hoch, Judy Greer – 6 Theatres)     

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."