Perhaps MAN ON A LEDGE would have have been a success if it had been a full-on parody of the recent “man stuck in a tight spot” sub-genre (think 127 HOURS and BURIED) -- just put a man on a ledge and keep him there by himself for 90 minutes and see what happens. As it stands, it plays things as a straight action/heist thriller, which is a big mistake, as neither the script, nor the director, nor the actors are up to the task.
Sam Worthington plays Nick Cassidy, an ex-con who climbs onto the ledge of a Manhattan hotel and threatens to jump. Elizabeth Banks is Lydia Mercer, the police negotiator who tries to talk him down -- and during the course of their interactions, comes to realize that there may be more to the situation than meets the eye. Which is true on three levels: First, we learn that the reason Nick was in jail was because he was found guilty of stealing a rare diamond from millionaire businessman David Englander (Ed Harris). Second, we learn that Nick swears his innocence, claiming that Englander, who had lost much of his fortune in the stock market, framed Nick in order to get the insurance money for the diamond. Third, we learn that the business on the ledge is nothing but a diversion, because across the street, Nick’s brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) are breaking into Englander’s fortress-like office to really steal the diamond, thus proving Nick’s innocence.
At first glance, it actually doesn’t sound like a terrible plot. Some potential for twists and intrigue is there. But writer Pablo F. Fenjves and director Asger Leth practically scotch-tape the proceedings together with not just every thriller cliché, but every heist cliché, too. Dialogue and acting are a mess -- a death knell for a film like this, which requires a dose of humanity and tension during the mano-a-mano scenes on the ledge. I like Elizabeth Banks, but she is woefully miscast as the negotiator, and Worthington is bland as ever and speaks with the worst Australian-New York accent you’ve ever heard. But the heist scenes are even worse: If FAST FIVE was OCEAN’S 11 for dummies, then MAN ON A LEDGE, with Bell and Rodriguez bumbling along with zero humor and even less chemistry, is FAST FIVE for idiots. If the film has a single saving grace, it’s Ed Harris, whose presence is always welcome -- but he is clearly wasted here.
Back to Worthington: Hollywood been pushing him as one of the next big action stars for a few years now, but it’s time to face facts: He is not good. His lack of personality and inability to emote may have been okay in a movie like AVATAR, where he was mostly required to serve as a vessel for the special effects and mythology, but any time he has been required to display some actual acting ability, it has been a cringe-inducing affair. He makes shitty films like CLASH OF THE TITANS even more dull than they might otherwise be and he is unquestionably the weak link in potentially-interesting films like THE DEBT. Make it stop!
MAN ON A LEDGE is a perfect example of a high-concept film that is handled ineptly and fails miserably. My biggest wish is that Samuel L. Jackson had shown up halfway through and screamed, “I HAVE HAD IT WITH THIS MOTHERFUCKING MAN ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING LEDGE!” Because that’s how I felt.