Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Man on a Ledge" (2012) Review

I like thrillers. I like films that can keep my eyes glued on the screen, even if I don't particularly enjoy them, just because I want to see where they're going. I can sit through a bad film, I can even like it, but I can't stand the type of film that will allow me to get up, grab a smoke and play Sonic on my Mega Drive Gopher while the film is still going (the primary reason I didn't like "The King's Speech").

Thrillers are the type of film that generally manages to do that. Even a bad thriller, if it's faithful to the tropes of the genre, can maintain my interest. "Man on a Ledge", which came out early this year, sells itself as one such film and, despite many basic writing problems and lackluster performances, it managed to get me to pay attention to it.

Sam Worthington plays Nick Cassidy, an escaped convict, ex-cop, who climbs onto the ledge of a hotel and threatens to jump. As soon as the authorities approach him to get him down, he only asks that his negotiator is one Lydia Mercer, played by Elizabeth Banks, whose previous "scene" (i.e. attempted suicide negotiation) blew up in her face.

Early on in the story, it's revealed that Nick's suicide attempt is just a distraction for his brother Joey and his girlfriend Angie, to break into the vault of the jewelry-mogul David Englander (played by Ed Harris) and find the very expensive diamond that Nick allegedly stole and which landed him in jail.

The story has the decency to refrain from shoehorning the "is he really guilty or not" gimmick in regards to Nick's character and makes it clear the man is innocent from the get-go. Actually, the entire story is very straightforward. Not everything is revealed from the start, but it doesn't concern itself with setting up major plot-twists. The good guys act like good guys from the start, the bad guys act guiltily all throughout and the movie doesn't pretend to hide any of it.

The film has great pacing, in fact. The action alternates between Nick and Lydia, Joey and Angie and finally Englander. The set-pieces are well-placed and the turns the plot takes are carefully revealed throughout the story's course, even if they don't really surprise anyone.

It makes sense, as the characters have no depth and are merely the plastic toys to move the action forward. The entire film has a very "Hollywood" flavor. All characters come with some semblance of inner conflict, but it's only there to kick a third dimension in them that never pays off. When Joey and Angie are breaking into the vault, they flirt and bicker with stilted dialogue that seems ridiculously forced in a desperate effort to show that they are human and they matter.

This would regularly be a bad thing, but despite the somewhat heavy-handed opening, the movie quickly screams that it cannot be taken seriously. This is further reinforced by the logical leaps in the plot and the performance of Ed Harris, who seems to be having the time of his life in the role of a genuinely evil corporate master-mind.

The camera work sets the ground for exciting shots without becoming awfully gratuitous and the acting is... well, Sam Worthington is a fine actor, but he's nearly lethargic in this one and Liz Banks, whose work I generally enjoy, doesn't seem interested in turning in her finest performance either.

I think a recommendation for this movie lies in your suspension of disbelief and tolerance for bullshit set-ups. Every turn in the plot seems to rely on a ridiculously elaborate plan, which in itself relies on a number of logical leaps-- with no real plan-B in place.

My breaking point was toward the end, when Nick jumped off that ledge, onto one of those floaty-mattresses the Fire Department sets up for you. For one, I'm pretty sure these don't really work and even if they did, one wouldn't simply get back up and keep running like nothing happened. For another, I believe that after jumping twenty stories off the ground, your heart stops long before you get to make kissy-faces with the pavement.

But this wasn't really enough to ruin the rest of the film for me. One thing that's interesting is the ending. It's at that point that it becomes abundantly clear that the script for this movie was originally twice as long. The number of characters alone and the theme of "family above all else" kind of scream that there was a lot more to this story than we got to see.

If you're as pretentious as I am, you can even see the foundations of an "Occupy" theme, where the ex-cop that represents a world of family values gets set-up by a corporate dickwad that has the police force in his pockets. You know, that thing that "RoboCop" did so well almost twenty-five years ago. Job creators!

But as it stands now, "Man on a Ledge" is a pretty par-for-the-course pop-corn flick with good pacing and a few neat moments. It's a film with entire textbooks-worth of problems, but it's definitely a good rental for a Saturday night with friends and booze. Consider this a recommendation.

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