When I think of January movie releases, I generally fixate on bad action movies. Unfrightening horror movies are a big part of the month, too, but action movies display the soul of the January Film Calendar. This year alone we were treated to Contraband(meh), Haywire (well received by critics, not audiences), The Grey (a different breed entirely), and Red Tails(underperforming in every way), all of which outshined poor little Man on a Ledge. If any January action film sums up the lackluster nature of the pre-Oscar releases, it’s this one, a hodge-podge of lazy plot points and painful clichés.
Man on a Ledge begins with Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), who we learn later is an ex-cop and a prison escapee, renting a room in a high-rise Manhattan hotel and promptly walking out onto the ledge (duh) 20+ stories up. This action catches the eye of onlookers from the street and soon cops rope off the area and send in Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), a haunted police negotiator who Nick requests by name. As she digs deeper into his story, Lydia becomes convinced there is more here than meets the eye and soon Nick lets it be known that he has taken these drastic actions in order to clear his name of the crime that sent him to prison, that being the theft of a $40 million dollar diamond from real estate mogul David Englander (Ed Harris). As it turns out, however, all of Nick’s exploits are done with the intention of distracting the cops while his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and his girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), break into Englander’s vault across the street to steal the item he was falsely accused of stealing in the first place.
The most amazing thing about Man on a Ledge is that director Asger Leth was able to assemble such a large collection of quality actors for such a droll film. Worthington, Banks, Bell, Harris, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick, Titus Willever, Ed Burns…everywhere you look, there’s a recognizable face. And yet most of these faces are given next to nothing to work with. Harris delivers a watered-down-but-acceptable version of his role in A History of Violenceand Banks is, as always, lively and entertaining to watch. Even Worthington is good-enough, though his inability to hold his accent borders on Cageian levels. In fact, if I may be so bold, the scenes in which Nick is actually out on a ledge, often speaking with Lydia, are solid. Not great, mind you, but certainly above average for a January action film.
But just about every positive is overwhelmed by a decisively more aggressive negative. Every scene that focuses on Joey and Angie is awful. AWFUL. And I mean EVERY scene. Angie becomes more and more generic and stereotypical of a spicy Latin hottie and with each line of dialogue, I found myself more and more compelled to leave the theater. I don’t know why Bell insists on taking bad roles in crummy movies. By all accounts he’s a talented guy and yet he keeps popping up in films like The Eagle, Jumper, and this jumbled mess. Maybe he just needs better representation. Regardless, his uninspiring chemistry with Rodriguez is at best awkward and he displays an uncanny ability for having no comedic timing whatsoever. Moreover, each “twist” and “turn” within the movie’s plot is as cliché as the one before, as Man on a Ledge falls into every action movie trap that you can imagine. 20 minutes into the film I could have written down everything that would happen throughout the rest of the runtime and I would have been spot on about 85 percent of the time. Even worse, none of the cliché plot devices are executed with any sort of precision. It’s as if, when writing the film, Pablo F. Fenjves got stuck and said, “Oh, I saw this in a movie one time, let’s do that” and then repeated this pattern multiple times. It is a boring, “going through the motions” narrative that never manages to get its wheels moving properly.