Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Henry's Crime

Genre: Heist/Drama
Premise: A toll booth worker takes the blame for a bank robbing he was tricked into. When he gets out of jail, he decides to rob the same bank in order to justify his sentence.
About: This is the recently announced project Keanu Reeves (no relation) signed onto, which he will also produce. It will be directed by Malcolm Venville. Stephen Hamel and Lemore Syvan will produce along with Reeves. – Some of the trades are calling this a romantic comedy. Though I can see why classifying the script may have been difficult, there’s not an ounce of comedy in here, so you can kaput that rumor right now. Sacha Gervasi is probably best known for writing 2004’s “The Terminal” for Steven Spielberg.
Writer: Sacha Gervasi
Details: 121 pages (unknown draft date)

So how *does* one classify Henry’s Crime? We’ve determined it isn’t a romantic comedy. But it does have romance. Yet I wouldn’t call it a romance. It’s got a lot of drama, that’s for sure. Oh, and it’s also a heist flick. Well… It’s not quite a heist flick. You’d need a lot of heisting going on for that. I guess you would call this a soft blend of all of these, with an exclamation point after “soft”. I’m having a hard time forming my thoughts for this review because Henry’s Crime didn’t really leave a lasting impression on me. It’s minimalist to the extreme. It’s reserved. It’s passive. And for that reason, it moves through you like a daydream. You’re experiencing it but when you wake up…you only remember bits and pieces.

The premise is actually kind of neat. A simple toll booth worker named Henry is unknowingly roped into a bank robbing by a few loose acquaintances. When it all goes to shit, Henry’s the one who gets caught. He’s told that if he names the men involved, he’ll go free. For reasons that are still unclear to me, he doesn’t name the men. This leads to a four year stint in jail, where he meets a wise older gentleman named Max. They become best friends. The sage Max is always pushing Henry to find his point here on earth. Why is he here? Henry doesn’t know. After Henry gets out of jail, he goes in search of this point. He ends up heading back to the bank he didn’t rob, and that’s where it hits him. He went to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. So he might as well go ahead and commit the crime.

So far, so good.

Except that’s pretty much where the interesting stuff ends. Henry’s Crime feels like a script desperately searching for a way to fill up all the empty space around that intriguing premise. And although there are some original choices made in the story, they never really feel like they’re a part of it.

Henry himself is quite a vapid character. He rarely interacts with life unless it interacts with him first. He doesn't offer his opinions on matters unless someone asks him. He will speak only when spoken to. In fact, most of Henry’s vocabulary revolves around different ways of saying, “I don’t know.” To be honest, Henry feels a lot like a robot. I couldn’t help but think of Jeff Bridges in Star Man. Remember how that character always seemed confused and asked a lot of questions? That’s pretty much Henry here. Except Henry is from earth. I know, I know. There are a million Keanu Reeves jokes to be made here. But I actually like Reeves and respect how he takes chances on material. Only a few A-list stars are that brave. But this role may even be too introverted for him.

Anyway, eventually Max gets out of prison and Henry convinces him to help him with his plan. It so happens that there’s an old theatre company right next to the bank, and that underneath it is an ancient water tunnel that nobody knows about, which leads to the bank vault. Henry ends up befriending a young actress who works at the theatre, and the two strike up a relationship. Eventually (and I wouldn’t fault you if you laughed here), Henry and Max realize that they can only get into the tunnel through one of the actor’s rooms. So Henry tries out for and lands the lead part in the play, which allows Max to use his room to dig into the tunnel.

I mean…that’s about as bold of a choice as you can make. Because if it doesn’t work, it’s gonna fall faster than the floor Max is standing on when he breaks through.

Towards the end, things start getting Prison Break in nature (can anyone explain to me how that show lasted more than one season? THEY BROKE OUT OF THE PRISON!!! There's nothing left to do!). The original gang leader who robbed the bank first (and screwed over Henry), finds out about the heist and wants in. So does the security guard who spotted Henry during that original robbing (though his interest feels more like a convenient way to give them a man on the inside). And while this is the one place where the script adds a healthy dose of conflict, the heist itself doesn’t sustain it.

I fully admit there's a chance here I didn't "get" this story. I didn't read the trades until afterwards and therefore had not heard of people classifying this as a "Capra-esque" romantic comedy. Looking back at it, that surely would've colored my approach to the read. But I think it's better I went in knowing nothing. Because that way I read the material for what it was. And I never felt any comedy in here at all. In fact, I thought this was a pretty heavy drama. Who knows? Maybe Variety got it wrong and everyone else picked it up. I will give this to Gervasi. He’s written something very original. But I simply couldn’t get into it.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This very well may be a pet peeve of mine so I’m not going to speak for the rest of Hollywood here. But one thing that drives me crazy is characters that only ask questions. One of the reasons I hated Kevin Smith’s Dogma so much, is that all the main character does is ask questions. That’s all she does the entire script. I never learned a single thing about her because she was too busy asking everyone else questions. And while Henry isn’t that bad, he definitely spends a lot of time asking questions, and as a result, I never get to know who *he* is. Without knowing your main character, it’s hard to identify with and root for him. And that was my big problem with this script. I never got a sense of who Henry was, so I didn’t really care about his life.