Henry Torne (Keanu Reeves) is a very tough nut to crack. He’s a man with no prospects or sense of purpose. He works the night shift at a Buffalo toll booth, seeing barely a soul. He’s distant from his wife for seemingly no reason. He speaks in short, direct sentences in a monotone voice, and he seems genuinely flustered by questions most of us would find exceedingly simple. To give you an idea of how disconnected he is from people, consider this early scene: He’s asked by a few of his friends to drive them to a softball game, and he obliges, but then they make a stop at a bank, and only then does Henry realize that they’ve been planning a robbery and that he has been roped into being the getaway driver. There are two things strange about this scenario. The first is that Henry knew that it wasn’t the softball season. The second is that, even after getting caught, he takes the rap for the robbery and is sentenced to jail.
The great failure of Henry’s Crime is that it operates under two incorrect assumptions. The first is that its eccentricities automatically make it engaging. A good story isn’t odd just for the sake of being odd. There should always be a method to the madness; otherwise, you have the cinematic equivalent of an antisocial loser. The second is that the characters are likeable by default. The title character, as played by Reeves, is odd without being interesting; he’s sedate and aloof, someone the other characters would in all likelihood not want to bother with out of boredom or even fear. He rarely cracks a smile, and when he does, it comes off so awkwardly that it’s downright creepy. There’s no clear explanation for why he does what he does. He just does it. That makes it much harder to invest in him.
In jail, which is apparently minimal security, Henry meets an inmate named Max (James Caan), who has grown accustomed to life behind bars. A year passes. Henry is released. He then makes a decision: Since he has done the time, he might as well do the crime. In other words, he plans on actually robbing a bank – the same one his friends failed to rob a year earlier. For reasons known only to him, he considers this his dream, which by default gives him purpose. But it isn’t enough for a man to dream alone; he wants Max to take part in this. Henry believes it’s ludicrous to be comfortable in jail, and he pressures Max into filing for parole, which he’s soon granted. Perhaps I’m just crazy, but it seems to me that if a man is content with his lot in life, even if it happens to be jail, maybe you should give him the benefit of the doubt and leave him the hell alone.
As Henry crosses the street to get a closer look at the bank, he’s hit and nearly run over by a car. The driver, it turns out, was distracted because she was talking on her cell phone. This would be Julie (Vera Farmiga), who refuses to take responsibility for her actions. Thank God Henry is too subdued to press the matter and stand up for his rights. What’s astounding is that Julie will almost immediately become Henry’s love interest. She’s an actress, best known for her appearance in a lottery ticket commercial, which Henry has seen. Her dream is to leave Buffalo and move to Hollywood. It’s one thing to be idealistic, although I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t set her sights on something closer to home ... like Broadway. She will, of course, become involved in Henry’s scheme, although her involvement is about as plausible as their falling in love.
As it turns out, Julie is acting in local stage production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, which is playing in a theater next to the bank. And wouldn’t you know it, the theater was at one time a speakeasy, and a long-forgotten tunnel runs underneath the alley separating the theater and the bank. Why, the two buildings are connected! Gaining access to this tunnel requires the convenient disappearance of the actor using a specific dressing room. It also requires Henry to be cast in the play. As he works with Max on the details of the robbery, he finds himself responding to the play; as rehearsals continue, the director – a grating stereotype played by Peter Stormare – gets Henry to free the actor that was apparently always within. The implication is that he was mistaken about his purpose in life, that he wasn’t meant to rob a bank but fall in love and act in regional theater. What a profound realization.
How the robbery goes down, I leave for you to discover. You will also have to see for yourselves what becomes of Henry, Max, and Julie. Funny I should say these things; this movie isn’t worth seeing at all. The final scene is not only painfully contrived, but also astonishingly implausible and immensely unsatisfying. The last line is supplied to Farmiga, which is unfortunate because it will probably be considered the worst exit line of the year. It’s hard for me to imagine what high-caliber actors like Reeves, Caan, and Farmiga saw in this screenplay. Perhaps they were attracted to the idea of starring in an offbeat film that crosses a crime caper with a romantic comedy. They should have realized is that offbeat doesn’t necessarily equate to successful. Henry’s Crime is strange, inexplicable, and impossible to take seriously.