By Ray Bennett
TORONTO – Combining a back-stage theatrical romance and a drama about a bank robbery into one spoof might have seemed a good idea at the time but while Malcolm Venville’s “Henry’s Crime” is billed as a comedy it’s more funny odd than funny ha-ha.
Keanu Reeves, who also was active in getting the picture made, has the central role of a man convicted of a robbery he had no part in who decides to make up for the time by now committing the crime.
Reeves plays the part, however, as a blank canvas and while some of the deliberately contrived elements of the combined plotlines are amusing, it becomes increasingly silly rather than gaining the laughs it seeks.
Cross cutting between Reeves dashing back and forth from a performance of Chekhov onstage and bank robbers digging a tunnel to a vault down below is clearly intended to be hilarious but it just seems awkward.
It will take very clear marketing to keep audiences from being confused by the film’s intentions. Even that might not be enough despite entertaining performances by Vera Farmiga, as Reeves’ leading lady onstage, and James Caan, as his main buddy in the bank raid.
The set up is that hapless Henry (Reeves), who has a drab marriage to Debbie (Judy Greer) and a drearier job as a tollbooth collector, finds himself bullied off to a baseball game by sometime pals Eddie (Fisher Stevens) and Joe (Danny Hoch). But there is no baseball game.
Instead, Eddie and Joe rob a bank at gunpoint leaving Henry to wait in his car, which has now become the getaway vehicle. The robbery goes sour, bank guard Frank (Bill Duke) collars the stupefied Henry, and he is promptly sent to jail.
After serving his time, he sets out to rob the bank for real and, through a series of what are supposed to be funny coincidences, discovers not only how to break into it but also a cover for his activities.
The cover comes from joining a down-at-heel theatrical troupe in a production of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” starring a beauty named Julie Ivanova (Farmiga) he meets cute when she runs him over in her car.
The play’s director, Darek Milodragovic (Peter Stormare) casts Henry in the lead role opposite Julie and the play’s rehearsals proceed as Henry, joined by tough old cellmate Max (Caan) dig beneath the theater into the bank.
Eddie, Joe and Frank all get involved too and the cross-cutting gets frenetic as the film’s director Venville (“44-Inch Chest”) tries to emphasize the parallels between the fate of the characters in the play and in the film, but the pacing is always one beat off.
Farmiga adds likeable goofiness to the wry humor she displayed in “Up In the Air” and Caan appears to having a very good time as Max. He does his best to make the audience have one too, but it’s an uphill struggle.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Sales: Parlay Films; Production companies: Company Films, Mimram Schur Pictures; Cast: Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, James Caan; Director: Malcolm Venville; Screenwriters: Sacha Gervasi, David White; Producers: Stephen Hamel, David J. Mimran, Jordan Schur, Lemore Sylvan; Executive producers: Sacha Gervasi, Lisa Wilson; Director of photography: Paul Cameron; Production designer: Chris Jones; Costume designer: Melissa Toth; Editor: Curtiss Clayton; No rating, running time 108 minutes.
This review appears in The Hollywood Reporter