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Hullabaloo


Saturday, April 30, 2011

 
Saturday Night At The Movies


Whoa, Lopakhin!


By Dennis Hartley















Keanu really digs the theatre: Henry’s Crime




Keanu Reeves does Chekhov? No, I’m not pitching an idea for an SNL sketch. After all, he has done Shakespeare (he co-starred in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing , Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho and played the lead in a stage version of Hamlet)-so is it such a stretch to see him sporting a goatee and a 19th-century waistcoat in The Cherry Orchard? OK, it’s not what you think. It’s just that, you see, in the quirky indie heist caper Henry’s Crime, he plays a guy who takes a role in a Chekhov play, even though his character is not an actor. I hear you-“Typecasting?” I know that Reeves has his share of detractors, perennially chagrined by his unique ability to remain completely motionless and expressionless for two hours at a stretch. But I have a theory-although his characters appear wooden, they still enjoy a rich” inner life” (you know…like Pinocchio).

One assumes that Henry (Reeves) has some kind of inner life. He seems to be a likable, easy-going fellow; it’s just that he’s a bit…inscrutable. Maybe it’s his job. Working the graveyard shift night after night at a N.Y. Thruway tollbooth would put anybody in semi-comatose state. Nothing fazes the agreeable yet impassive Henry, one way or the other-although he does display a slight twitch when, one morning at breakfast, his wife (Judy Greer) broaches the subject of the couple having a child. Suddenly, we get the impression that Henry would prefer to be anywhere else but there, at that moment, having that particular conversation. What’s going on? Is this a troubled marriage? Does he love his wife? Is this cipher of a man internally harboring primal doubts about life itself? Or…is he suffering in silence from a sudden attack of gas? There’s really no way of discerning.

We never get a chance to find out exactly what Henry is contemplating, because that is precisely the moment that Fate intervenes. An old high school chum named Eddie Vibes (Fisher Stevens) unexpectedly shows up on his doorstep, with a drunken cohort in tow. Both men are dubiously outfitted for a game of baseball. Eddie wants to know if Henry can give them a ride to their “game”. Nothing about this questionable early-morning scenario seems to raise any red flags for the ever-malleable Henry. Even Eddie’s request to stop at the bank “on the way”-and to park the car out front and wait while his passengers go inside-fails to elicit the tiniest raised eyebrow from Henry. Needless to say, the heist goes awry, Henry’s car stalls, his “friends” flee…and guess who ends up in stir?

Although he owes them squat, Henry doesn’t rat out the real culprits and takes the fall, while his demeanor remains unchanged. At this point, one might surmise that Henry is either some kind of transcendent Zen master…or a clueless moron (not unlike the protagonist of Forrest Gump or Chance the gardener in Being There . Ah, but our little wooden boy is about to meet his Geppetto. Max (James Caan) is a veteran con man. He’s one of those oddball convicts who actually “likes” prison-which is why he has been sabotaging his own parole hearings and enabling himself to continue living on the state’s dime. He becomes a mentor/father figure to Henry, who takes it to heart when Max advises him that he needs to find a Dream, and then pursue it. So what is Henry’s resultant epiphany? Since he’s already done the time, he might as well now do the crime.

Henry gets out of the pen, discovers that his wife has remarried to one of the creeps who set him up (he almost seems secretly relieved-in his own inimitable fashion) and proceeds to foment a plan to rob the bank that he originally had no intention of robbing in the first place. While casing the scene, he is hit by a car driven by a harried stage actress (Vera Farmiga) who is running late for a rehearsal at a nearby theater (it’s a Meet Cute). Soon afterwards, he discovers an old newspaper clipping about a long-forgotten bootlegger’s tunnel that runs under the alley that separates the theater from the bank next door. He encourages a reluctant Max to make nice to his parole board at his next hearing, so he can assist him with the heist. It doesn’t take the seasoned con man too long to figure out that the key to gaining access to the bank is for the heist team to finagle themselves into the theater production in the building next door. Hence, we get to the part where Keanu does Chekhov. One slight complication: he falls in love with his leading lady (who wouldn’t?).

There’s a little déjà vu running through this film (the second effort from 44 Inch Chest director Malcolm Venville). Sacha Gervasi and David White’s script may have been “inspired” by some vintage heist flicks; specifically, Alexander Mackendrick’s 1955 comedy The Ladykillers, and Lloyd Bacon’s Larceny, Inc.from 1942 (essentially remade by Woody Allen as Small Time Crooks. I thought that James Caan was recycling his “Mr. Henry” persona from Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket a wee bit. While the film has classic screwball tropes, it lacks the kinetic pace of Lubitsch or Sturges. That being said, I still found Venville’s film to be quite engaging and entertaining-within its own unique universe (yes, even the somnambulant Keanu). I was reminded of Vincent Gallo’s criminally underappreciated Buffalo '66; in addition the fact that it also was filmed in and around the Buffalo area, it’s another one of those low-key comedies with oddly endearing characters that “sneaks up” on you, especially once you realize how genuinely touching and sweet it really is at its core. And there’s no crime in that, is there?

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