(by Dustin Putman
Having been one-upped not only by the thrilling, armrest-clenching, vertigo-inducing Abu Dhabi high-rise set-piece in 2011's "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," but also by a very similar, almost-as-suspenseful sequence in that same year's "Tower Heist," small-fry afterthought "Man on a Ledge" might as well be retitled "Man on a Curb." For a thriller set primarily on the 21st-story ledge of a New York City hotel, the film never quite raises tension levels to where one would expect. Instead of using the confined space to his tautest benefit—think 2003's Joel Schumacher-helmed "Phone Booth"—director Asger Leth goes limp with too many one-note supporting characters and a plot that becomes preposterous by the third act. It's not outright terrible, but its general mediocrity is representative of the typical January movie release schedule. Article continues below
As he rots away in Sing Sing Correctional Facility, ex-cop Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) is having a tough time coping with the 25-year prison sentence he's been handed for a crime—the theft of a multimillion-dollar diamond—he adamantly believes was a frame job. When his father passes away and he is given permission to attend the funeral, Nick sees it as his only chance for escape. Eluding police officials and surviving a car accident with a train that even the film's makers would probably have a difficult time explaining, he eventually makes his way to Manhattan and checks into the Roosevelt Hotel. Nick's stay, however, won't be for pleasure. Following a last meal, a fingerprint rubdown of the room, and the writing of a suicide note, he climbs out the window and prepares to jump. Does Nick fully intend to take his own life, or is he bluffing for time when he requests the assistance of police psychologist Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), recently in the press for having failed to stop a bridge jumper? As the crowds of onlookers and media grow down below and the investigators struggle to pinpoint the man's identity, Nick's younger brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey's girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) move closer to David Englander (Ed Harris), a corrupt businessman who may hold the key to proving his innocence.
"Man on a Ledge" was written by Pablo F. Fenjves, making his big studio debut following years of hard work on direct-to-cable schlock. Unfortunately, the leaps in logic no doubt found in his earlier work are carried over here to harmfully silly effect. The choice to initially keep certain details in the dark for the audience—e.g., what Nick is in prison for and Joey's and Angie's motives—is pointless since their revelations are about as staggering as a person figuring out which level of a garage they parked their car on. As for the payoff of Nick's master plan, let's just say that it is so convoluted, relying upon characters knowing key pieces of information at just the right time, it plays almost like a dream Nick is having. If one cannot believe the goings-on for a second, what is left are simply the baser pleasures of watching a movie where a guy is one foot away from certain death. Director Asger Leth assuredly pulls interest from this, particularly in the first half, but doesn't know what to do with the claustrophobic situation in order to keep cranking up a mounting sense of danger. Mostly, there is a bunch of standing around and traded conversations between Nick and Lydia. The setting, then, grows tedious pretty quickly. A more conventional action climax takes place off said ledge, but this is most notably where the patently ludicrous narrative shifts into overdrive.
Watching Sam Worthington (2011's "The Debt") do all that he can to paint the shades of his conflicted, put-upon character of Nick Cassidy is telling. He's very, very good, and in a few early scenes set back at the prison the sheer despair written across his face and in his bloodshot eyes is close to devastating. Worthington needs stronger films, better vessels for his talents, and a wider variety of material to work from if he hopes to break out of the action-hero typecasting mold. One co-star who knows all about changing things up is the always reliable Elizabeth Banks (2011's "Our Idiot Brother"), able to segue between light comedies and the darkest of dramas without seeming miscast in either one. Banks' Lydia Mercer is a tortured figure herself, putting on a brave face but barely getting by on the guilt she feels for those people she was unable to save. Somehow—and it's not exactly clear how—Lydia is saved herself by what she goes through. By the end she's as happy-go-lucky as Gidget. In a large supporting cast that get little thanks from the script, Ed Harris (2008's "Appaloosa"), as heavy David Englander, sucks on his cigar with relish and would undoubtedly stroke his mustache if he had one; Jamie Bell (2011's "The Adventures of Tintin") and newcomer Genesis Rodriguez go through the motions as Joey and Angie, a plan to save the former's big brother up their sleeve while chaos ensues outside; and Kyra Sedgwick (2009's "Gamer") turns in what amounts to a throwaway cameo as news reporter Suzie Morales.
Adequately made but truly senseless, "Man on a Ledge" culminates in a halfway gripping rooftop showdown and a whole lot of "did-I-just-see-that?" lunacy. Even if Nick succeeds in clearing his name, the long line of laws he breaks to reach that point would send him back to the slammer anyway. That, however, is promptly forgotten about as the end credits near and a celebratory tone takes over. New romantic relationships are burgeoned. Bad megalomaniacs are put away. Heck, there's even a marriage proposal in a crowded corner bar, the other patrons hushed as they await the lucky lady's answer. One moment of solitary reflection about "Man on a Ledge" and the whole hamstrung thing crumbles. Still, taken on a scene-to-scene basis, the film is not without its diversions. Coming less than a month into the new year, prospective viewers would do wise to lower their expectations accordingly.