In Man on a Ledge, a man named Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) checks into the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, orders a champagne lunch and then climbs out of the window of his room on the 21st floor, threatening to jump.
A crowd of onlookers quickly gathers on the street to gawk and point. Police rush in to talk the man down. One detective (Ed Burns) doesn’t have much luck. Another one, Det. Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), fares a little better. She’s a negotiator who specializes in these sorts of stressful standoffs, although we learn her last suicide intervention failed after the guy she was trying to save jumped off a bridge anyway. But Nick is willing to talk to her — at least for a while.
This setup might have been perfectly adequate, except for two things: Nick doesn’t look the slightest bit suicidal – there is absolutely zero chance this guy is taking a flying leap - and director Asger Leth has already shown us a lengthy prologue in which we saw Nick bust out of prison, so we know there is more going on here than meets the eye.
Man on a Ledge was written by Pablo F. Fenjves, who is big on the whole “things are not what they seem” thing, but not too fond of slow reveals and building tension. The movie lets us know too much too soon, so we know that by standing on that ledge, Nick is simply providing a distraction for his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his acrobatic girlfriend Angie (Miami native Genesis Rodriguez) to pull off a Mission: Impossible-style heist in a building nearby. And when I say Mission: Impossible-style, I mean exactly like the Brian de Palma movie, complete with a scene in which the burglars hang in mid-air, suspended from the ceiling, breaking into a room where the floor is wired and an increase in temperature will set off alarms.
Ed Harris is also in Man on a Ledge, playing a sneering tycoon who likes to gloat when he one-ups his enemies, and Kyra Sedgwick is a Hispanic TV news reporter whose only discernable character trait is the exaggerated way she pronounces her last name “Morales” (the same way Jane Curtain used to say “Venezuela” on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend News Update.) The filmmakers try to give the movie momentum and tension, but that’s almost impossible to do when the audience is so far ahead of the characters. It’s an unintentional consequence of the structure the script uses, constantly cutting away from the ledge to show us what is happening elsewhere.
The only mysteries in Man on a Ledge are the reasons for what the characters are doing, which is too puny an engine to drive such an unwieldy jalopy. Who cares? The other big question in the film: Has there ever been an actor as bland as Worthington given so many plum roles? This guy starred in Avatar, Terminator: Salvation and Clash of the Titans, yet he’s so anonymous that he’s the least interesting character in the movie. The energy sags during his scenes. When you look at Worthington’s face, all you see is an actor trying to remember his lines. I couldn’t have cared less whether or not Nick made it through the movie alive. Instead, Man on a Ledge just made me think of an old Van Halen song: Jump.
Cast: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, Ed Burns, Kyra Sedgwick, Ed Harris.
Director: Asger Leth.
Screenwriter: Pablo F. Fenjves.
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian.
A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 103 minutes. Vulgar language, violence. Opens Friday Jan. 27 at area theaters.