Man on a Ledge

God love Sam Worthington, he tries so very hard. Being launched to stardom via the glaringly childish Avatar must have been quite a handicap, but in between taking stupid roles in Clash of the Titans and Terminator Salvation he does genuinely seem to have looked for more challenging roles. The only trouble is that he’s totally, utterly crap in them. He was the worst thing about Last Night, which was awful anyway, and the sole bum note in the otherwise superb cast of The Debt – can’t he just wait until Wrath of the Titans rolls around? Anyway, Man on a Ledge was nearly good and then Sam Worthington was in it.

Pseudonymous Man (Worthington) checks into a swanky New York hotel and turns down a bigger room for one “with a view” (thanks, Department of Foreshadowing!). He orders champagne and lobster for breakfast, as one does, and then scribbles what looks like a very meaningful note on the complimentary stationery. Then he climbs out of the window. Guess what he stands on? You’ve got it, sports fans – a ledge. FLASHBACK! “One month ago”, Nick Cassidy (hang on, that’s not the name he just used in that hotel!) was in prison for something or other that he feels rather bitter about. He’s just been handed down a twenty-five year sentence when his buddy Mike (Anthony Mackie) shows up to tell him that his father’s dying. An armed guard escorts Nick to the funeral, where he promptly gets into a fight with his brother Joey (Bell) and manages to snatch one of his minders’ guns in the ensuing confusion. Nick slips his cuffs, evades the fuzz and disappears.

Returning to the present day, a crowd has gathered beneath Nick’s ledge and negotiators are called in. But Nick will only speak to Lydia Mercer (Banks), a disillusioned detective who recently failed to talk a depressed fellow cop off the Brooklyn Bridge. As Lydia teases details out of Nick, things start to make sense; Nick, himself a former policeman, insists that he was framed for the theft of a $40m diamond from tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris). Englander owns both the hotel Nick’s balancing on the edge of and the building across the street – which contains the vault Nick was accused of robbing. But if the jewel in question is still in the vault, then Nick’s innocence can be proved… and while Nick distracts the city, that’s just what Joey and his girlfriend Angie (Génesis Rodríguez) intend to find out.

There’s nothing new on offer in Man on a Ledge, nothing at all. Most semi-dedicated cinemagoers could write a vault break-in (complete with your choice of inconvenient sensors) in ten minutes, and the prospect of Sam Worthington essentially wasting Elizabeth Banks’ time for an hour and a half whilst Jamie Bell cavorts in a series of air vents doesn’t exactly thrill. But for all its recovering of old ground, the premise is at least fun. The excitement of the heist scenes is heightened by the unavoidably slow pace of what I suppose must be referred to as the ‘ledge scenes’, and although some of the plot twists are just utterly stupid a few of them are really quite clever. (Mustn’t say too much, but keep an eye on the room service chap.)

The trouble with Man on a Ledge is that it never gets beyond that vaguely distasteful blend of ‘quite clever’ and ‘utterly stupid’. Jamie Bell’s performance is quite clever; Sam Worthington’s is utterly stupid. Casting Titus Welliver as a dodgy cop was quite clever; casting Elizabeth Banks as an earnest, incisive negotiator (who wakes up hungover but with artfully messy hair) was utterly stupid. Giving Bell and Rodriguez’ characters such a fiery and dynamic relationship to highlight Worthington and Banks’ tense tiptoeing was quite clever; making Rodriguez strip down to her underwear for literally no reason at all was utterly stupid and really quite sexist. What about the people who wanted to see Jamie Bell in a lacy bra?

Perhaps I was a bit unfair about Sam Worthington earlier. He wasn’t dreadful; he’s rarely dreadful. He was just so uninteresting that his performance is almost worth dismissing out of hand. “How far would you go to take down the man who stole everything from you” (or something), Nick growls at Lydia as the film approaches its nearly-climactic final scenes. If Worthington’s half-arsed frown can be taken as an example of just how far he went, it seems that the last word in revenge is ‘have champagne and lobster for breakfast, and then walk off your acid indigestion on a ledge’. Blah.

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