In 2002, director Joel Schumacher and actor Colin Farrell proved that 81 minutes of a guy in a phone booth could be interesting. With 102 minutes, director Asger Leth and writer Pablo Fenjves struggled to do the same with a guy on a ledge. Though the title conjures up memories of “Snakes on a Plane,” an awesomely terrible film starring an F-bomb-spewing Samuel L. Jackson, “Man on a Ledge” contains little of the fun that “Snakes” boasted and doesn’t match the suspense of “Phone Booth.” But it’s still entertaining.
“Man on a Ledge” starts with escaped convict and former NYPD officer Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) checking into the ritzy Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan under a false name and ordering a “last supper” for breakfast, complete with champagne, before opening a window in his 21st story hotel room and preparing to throw himself off the ledge. A woman spots him, and a crowd soon gathers, with the NYPD and negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) following soon after.
But Nick isn’t really on the ledge to commit suicide. Instead he’s there to distract the cops from a heist occurring across the street in a building owned by real estate mogul David Englander (Ed Harris). Nick was sentenced to 25 years for allegedly stealing a diamond worth $40 million from the mogul. Nick swears Englander set him up to get the insurance money. His brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) plan to break into Englander’s vault and find the diamond to prove Nick’s innocence.
With a TV movie writer and first-time feature director at the helm, it’s clear that their leash was short and that the producers — whose credits include “RED” and the “Transformers” movies — were calling the shots. The film’s action sequences are filmed pretty well, but a better director would have purged the film of fake New York accents and perhaps a few characters like Kyra Sedgwick’s annoying TV reporter. Such cuts would streamline the introduction and also remove a lot of cliché set-up banter.
Without the crowd of New Yorkers gathered on the street, including a crazy homeless guy who rails against “the man” and several middle-aged women holding signs professing their love for the hot guy on the ledge, the story would fall flat on its face before it could really develop. Eventually Banks’s Lydia kicks the other police out of Nick’s hotel room so she can talk to Nick alone, and their chemistry begins to propel the story. Banks and Worthington are both seasoned, and Worthington, who was excellent in “The Debt,” again shows he’s got more talent than his performances in “Avatar” and “Clash of the Titans” seemed to indicate. It helps that a number of the scenes are filmed on a ledge in New York City, and that Worthington is in fact afraid of heights.
As the connection between Lydia and Nick deepens, Bell and the gorgeous Rodriguez begin their heist. One thing that sets this film apart is the amateur way the heist is carried out, from the flirtatious back-and-forth between Bell and Rodriguez to the methods they employ in the actual theft. Some of it works: Bell takes a picture from just next to a security camera, prints it on a portable photo printer and uses wire to suspend it a couple inches in front of the security camera to provide the illusion of an empty hallway. But the flirtatious back-and-forth between Bell and Rodriguez is completely unnecessary and prolongs the wait until Rodriguez can show she’s got any actual talent to go with her curves, accentuated here to their full potential.
Once everyone settles into their roles, it just takes too long for the story to work through the steps of the heist and the stages of police negotiation to a point where Worthington can decide whether to jump or not. It’s not the best heist thriller around, but it’s not bad for a January release.
Darin Miller is a movie critic in Washington, D.C.