When Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) climbs out of a widow gets on the ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel, right in the middle of Manhattan, his life has so gone to shit you can believe he’s ready to end it. Having recently escaped custody while attending his father’s funeral, Nick has already spent two years in a jail for a crime he didn’t commit, the theft of a valuable jewel. His appeals have run out and he’s facing a considerable stretch at Sing Sing, narrowing his choices down to whiling in a cell block or splattered on a literal street block. But that suspension of disbelief only goes so far, because unless it’s Gwyneth Paltrow lying on a gurney, few movies are gonna have the lead die this early on. So Nick’s job is not to convince us, but the cops who have quickly flooded into the hotel and onto the street below, that he wants to kill himself. And so begins “Man On A Ledge,” which starts off as a promising compact little thriller, but eventually unravels into something far more conventional and absurd.
The film’s best moments are early on, when the it forgoes action setpieces (though it does open with a rather frenetic car chase), and instead presents a trio of character pairings that initially give the material far more depth than it deserves. The best of the bunch is between burned out negotiator Lydia (Elizabeth Banks), still reeling from losing her last assignment who happened to be a fellow officer, and her colleague Jack (Edward Burns), whose facade of a lack of faith in her abilities hides a sympathy for her. Nick and Lydia’s exchanges are also charged, with each trying to flirt and manipulate the other. Finally, there’s Nick and his brother Joey (Jamie Bell), whom he communicates with via a discreet ear piece because oh yeah, this whole suicide thing is the cover for a heist. Joey and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are breaking into a vault across the street to steal the very jewel that Nick was sent up the river for, so they can prove his innocence.
But it soon becomes clear that screenwriter Pablo F. Fenjves doesn’t quite know where to take these characters once he sets them up, so he tosses in a few more, most of whom have little consequence on the actual plot. There’s Kyra Sedgwick as ambulance chasing reporter Susie Morales, and most of her performance seems to have wound up on the cutting room floor. There’s another random crazy/homeless person roaming the street outside of the hotel who surely won’t have anything important to do in the third act. And then there’s David Englander, the villain of the piece who framed Nick for the crime, played by Ed Harris, who masticates on his lines so thoroughly, it’s as if he just ripped meat off the bone with his teeth. But problematically, he’s not given much to do as the audience waits for him to get his commupence, so his screentime is strangely quite small.
And if that isn’t enough, audiences will be subjected to excrutiatingly tedious comic relief between Joey and Angie. Bell and Rodriguez don’t have the chemistry to make it work (or the writing to help them out), and the frequent scenes of these two lovers quarreling as they carry out the heist grind the movie to a halt. That Rodriguez spends most of that time in a low cut tank top and a tremendously strong push up bra only partially makes it worthwhile. And the citizens of New York crowded to watch Nick are also given some space to make an impression. But unfortunately director Asger Leth seems to think that in post 9/11 Manhattan, people still want to watch folks falling from buildings, so the citizens of the city mostly come off as bloodthirsty assholes, living off the someone else’s misery, as they wait for Nick to paint the sidewalk. And we thought Ed Harris was the bad guy?
In a particular context, “Man On A Ledge” could have been a nifty little B-movie thriller. One expects little more than that from a movie called “Man On A Ledge.” Leth certainly keeps this moving along quite briskly, with the pacing perfectly befitting a taut genre exercise, so much so that you’re willing to overlook some of the implausibilities of the premise, if only to find out what exactly happened to cause Nick to step out of that hotel room. But at least a half hour before the movie ends, you’ll likely have figured it out, and perhaps sensing this, the movie abruptly changes gears quite quickly. Gone is the engaging dual stories of a carefully timed heist and an orchestrated suicide, and it’s replaced by rooftop and hotel foot chases and gun battles from a suddenly very trigger happy NYPD.
At one point during the movie, there’s a half-hearted reference to “Dog Day Afternoon,” as that aforementioned crazed/homeless person tries to get the crowd to chant “Attica! Attica!” The moment only serves to underscore how a seemingly one-dimensional premise can be elevated with care and characterization to something so much more. But Leth is no Sidney Lumet, and his film can’t even fuction as a passable thriller. The third act stumbles so lazily into dull action movie tropes that previously overlooked plot holes return as further evidence of the film’s clumsy construction. How could an escaped convict walk around Manhattan and check into a major hotel without getting recognized? With police, news and citizens broadcasting over the airwaves, no one came across the channel that Nick and Joey were using to communicate? How come the cops only decide to run the bank statements to help them zero in on Nick’s ulterior motive when he was on the ledge and not after he escaped custody?
But you see, those aren’t the questions the filmmakers want you to ask. Instead, “Man On A Ledge” asks viewers to go out to the edge and take your toes right to the precipice of B-movie boundaries. But ultimately, the film betrays that trust, and audiences are sent tumbling over into a story both ridiculous and rote, with a sloppily orchestrated finale as hamfisted as the film’s opening maneouvers were tight and lean. You might be tempted to take a risk with “Man On A Ledge,” but we’d suggest you stay indoors. [C-]