Keanu Reeves Sleepwalks Through ‘Henry’s Crime’

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Average: 1 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Keanu Reeves is the sort of actor who succeeds in spite of himself. His best work remains in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when he specialized in playing hazy-brained man-children, the best of which may have been Tod Higgins, the goofy race car driver in Ron Howard’s timeless 1989 comedy, “Parenthood.” Reeves transcended the silliness of his character with a performance of disarming warmth.
Unfortunately, the majority of Reeves’ subsequent portrayals have been marked by an underlying blankness. When he’s not required to merely spout catchy one-liners or engage in slow-mo gun battles, Reeves often resembles a human-shaped void. When his facial muscles move and threaten to form an expression, the actor looks profoundly ill at ease. He may in fact be the world’s first flesh-and-blood android.
Consider his performance in “Henry’s Crime,” the new would-be charmer from director Malcolm Venville, who has an uncanny knack for garnering A-List ensembles for underwhelming B-movies (his previous effort was the star-studded crime drama “44 Inch Chest”). Reeves plays Henry, an ashen-faced everyman whose life has become as stagnant as the toll booth where he sits. Nothing can rupture his façade of indifference. When his restless wife (Judy Greer) once again expresses her imminent desire for children, Henry sits silently. When his friends trick him into driving the escape car for their secret bank heist, Henry sits silently. When faced with the option of three years in prison or ratting on his backstabbing buddies, Henry…well, you get the drift. What’s worse is that Reeves barely attempts to convey the inner workings of his character’s enigmatic psyche. His maddening nonchalance is reminiscent of Billy Bob Thornton’s titular bystander in the Coen Brothers’ infinitely superior “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” Henry is there, alright, but his mind appears to be elsewhere.

Keanu Reeves stars in Malcolm Venville’s underwhelming Henry’s Crime.
Keanu Reeves stars in Malcolm Venville’s underwhelming Henry’s Crime.
Photo credit: Maitland Primrose Group

“Crime” banks on the weariness and desperation of our hard-knock times to generate sympathy for its sad-sack characters. Once out of prison, Henry decides to rob the bank he was wrongly imprisoned for robbing because, “If you’ve done the time, you might as well have done the crime.” That glib catchphrase is meant to convey everything audiences need to know about Henry’s otherwise murky motivation. Equally inexplicable is the participation of veteran jailbird Max (James Caan), who’s content to remain in the comfort of his cell until an unexplained epiphany (at his annual review) causes him to think differently. So Max checks out of prison as if it were a motel, and proceeds to help his friend. As he did in the equally middling “Middle Men,” Caan steals every one of his scenes, proving that he hasn’t lost an ounce of his magnetism or wry humor. He’s one of many, many actors required to generate energy and interest while swirling around the still center inhabited by Reeves, who functions as little more than a comic foil. Even the soundtrack strains to create whimsy by blasting Daptone tunes as Henry ambles down the street.
Yet it’s Vera Farmiga as Reeves’ sardonic love interest that makes the film worth a rental, if not a full-price movie ticket. As Julie, the jaded star of an amateur theatre troupe, Farmiga is thoroughly engaging, never allowing her character’s dissatisfaction to morph into sour self-pity. After a tearful shouting match with her volatile Czech director (a scenery-chewing Peter Stormare), Julie immediately shrugs it off, labeling it, “part of the process.” She also brings out the best in Reeves by having him recite lines from her current play, Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” Writers Sacha Gervasi (“The Terminal”) and David White (“Undisputed III: Redemption”) rely so heavily on Chekhov’s dialogue to articulate the feelings of their main character that they might as well have given the playwright co-screenwriting credit. The film’s satirical jabs at theatre are more diverting than its predictable exploration of deadpan criminals, yet nothing in the film manages to be truly inspired. Even the supposedly dramatic finale is forced, as characters tie up loose ends onstage thanks to some remarkable improvisation. “Being Julia” did this with much more zest, yet it also had the benefit of its star, Annette Bening, firing on all cylinders. Here, we just have Reeves solemnly delivering his lines like a particularly bored Nicolas Cage. At least the scene ends before the obligatory applause.

Vera Farmiga and Keanu Reeves star in Henry’s Crime.
Vera Farmiga and Keanu Reeves star in Henry’s Crime.
Photo credit: Maitland Primrose Group

As a feel good comedy about bank robbery, “Crime” plays it too safe. Oddly enough, that criticism is identical to the one Stormare hurls at Farmiga throughout the picture. Despite his cartoonish demeanor, Stormare’s character is the only person in the film whose words hit a note of truth. Henry weasels his way into the Chekhov play in order to have access to the tunnel that joins the theater to the bank. This plot development could’ve been milked for far more comic mileage, though it still manages to inspire the film’s biggest laugh, when Stormare interrupts Reeves’ cardboard acting with an exasperated expulsion of “BORING!” The second funniest line is delivered by Henry’s deadbeat pal, Joe (Danny Hoch), who defends his involvement in an Amway-style pyramid scheme by referring to it as “a multi-layered marketing paradigm.” I’ll even go so far as to admit that Reeves is halfway endearing at times, especially when he allows his doltish exterior to soften, as if someone had flipped the human switch on in his head. But when the hint of a smile starts to flicker on his face, his expression is akin to that of Miley Cyrus when she tried forcing out tears in “The Last Song.” Perhaps Reeves should simply stick to dialogue along the lines of, “Klaatu barada nikto.”

‘Henry’s Crime’ stars Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, James Caan, Fisher Stevens, Danny Hoch, Judy Greer, Bill Duke and Peter Stormare. It was written by Sacha Gervasi and David White and directed by Malcolm Venville. It opened April 29 at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. It is rated R. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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