There have been many great movie catchphrases over the years from “I’ll be back” to “May the Force be with you,” but usually the catchphrase arises out of the script. In the case of the 2010 Keanu Reeves caper comedy, “Henry’s Crime,” however, the film appears to have been constructed around a clever play on words. In this case, the catchphrase is “If you did the time, you might as well have done the crime,” a variant on “If you do the crime, you have to do the crime.” Unfortunately, most of the film’s cleverness seems to have been expended on the catchphrase, leaving little to a caper and a comedy that aren’t nearly as much fun as they should be.
The title character in “Henry’s Game” is a burned-out toll collector (played by Keanu Reeves) in upstate New York who manages to get talked into going out with some high school acquaintances (led by Fisher Stevens) to what he thinks is a pickup softball game (in the middle of the Buffalo winter). Instead, it turns out to be a bank robbery, with Henry as the getaway driver. However, the robbery goes poorly, and the hapless Henry is the only one caught. When he gets out of jail, Henry revisits the bank and learns that during Prohibition a tunnel ran from the bank vault to a speakeasy across the street. The speakeasy is now a theater, and Henry hatches a scheme to access the tunnel from the theater and use it to burrow into the bank vault. To do so, he has to get a part in the theatrical production of “The Cherry Orchard” currently in rehearsals at the theater.
Keanu Reeves is an actor with a highly limited range, but playing an emotionless burnout is right in his wheelhouse. His Henry barely cracks a smile or raises his voice throughout the entire movie. But, while Reeves’s performance is spot on, it doesn’t make for a very compelling film. To give the film the energy it needs, director Malcolm Venville adds some colorfully over-the-top supporting characters, beginning with Vera Farmiga, the play’s lead actress and Henry’s eventual bed buddy. Old pro James Caan also appears as an old-time convict Henry meets in prison, who helps with the details and planning of the robbery. And finally, there is Peter Stormare as the eccentric, hot-headed director of the play.
“Henry’s Game” is the type of movie where the little things that work compensate for the big things that don’t. The robbery itself is highly mundane (although we get to see occasional shots of people digging a tunnel that look like leftover outtakes from “The Great Escape”). Not even the third-act return of Fisher Stevens, who threatens to expose the heist if he’s not cut in, makes it especially suspenseful or entertaining. The other main subplot is the disastrous preparation for the play. The combination of a zombie-like, amateurish Reeves and a scenery-chewing Farmiga should have been good for laughs, but director Venville (who hasn’t made a feature film since “Henry’s Game”) can’t seem to produce any really funny moments.
Fortunately, Farmiga, Caan, and Stormare have a lot of fun with their roles. Farmiga turns her character into an even more neurotic, human version of Miss Piggy, leaving poor Keanu Reeves dumbstruck at times as to how to react (acting dumbstruck is also well within Reeves’s wheelhouse). Stormare seems to channel every obsessive director in the history of the theater and combines his manic energy with an at-times nearly indecipherable accent. Best of all is Caan, who is less Sonny Corleone and more Billy Rose. He doesn’t want to leave prison because he’s a big shot in the slammer and doesn’t care for the prospect of starting from scratch on the outside. But once he is outside, he’ all charm and smoothness.
“Henry’s Crime” is a prime example of what happens when you combine a decent plot idea and some A-list acting talent with a script that doesn’t know what to do with its central premise and a director who can’t maximize his comic potential. “Henry’s Crime” is neither the clever caper nor the manic farce that the film easily could have been. However, it’s amiable enough throughout, and the supporting performers are clearly having a lot of fun. For those reasons, I’m giving the film a mild recommendation. But, make no mistake, it’s somewhat of a crime that Henry’s movie wasn’t any better.