SummitThere's a reason that crowds gather when a potential jumper appears on a ledge. Not only is there inherent drama in the desperation of the act—a genuine brush with mortality, when a strong gust of wind could mean the difference between life and death. There's also a sick fascination that comes with knowing such an event can end in only one of two ways: the relieving anticlimax of witnessing a life being saved, or the horror in witnessing a gruesome death.
There's a better movie to be made about this voyeuristic tension than Asger Leth's less-than-thrilling thriller Man on a Ledge, which hits theaters today. In it, the titular, apparently suicidal man (played with characteristic woodenness by Sam Worthington) climbs out onto the ledge of a skyscraper, gradually unveiling his elaborate agenda to a police negotiator (Elizabeth Banks, whose taste in non-comedy roles continues to be abysmal) assigned to talk him down. The hooky, easy-to-grasp premise is a marketer's dream; there's a reason that the movie's title conveniently doubles as a summary of its plot (see also: Tower Heist, My Week with Marilyn, or We Bought a Zoo).
Man on a Ledge is perhaps the perfect movie to close out the cinematic doldrums of January, a month that thrives on B-grade thrillers like Contraband or The Grey. There's nothing creative or original here; Man on a Ledge feels like a Frankenstein monster that's been cobbled together from other thrillers of varying quality. There's the one-location setup, which recalls 2002's underrated Phone Booth; the elaborate heist plan, which has shades of both Ocean's Eleven and Inside Man; and an anti-Wall Street angle that aims, like recent films Tower Heist and In Time, to tap into current events.
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And without the toothless Occupy Wall Street angle, what does Man on a Ledge have left? Well, the man on a ledge. But even the premise owes a heavy debt to IFC's little-seen 2011 release The Ledge, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. Though The Ledge didn't even make a pebble-sized theatrical splash, it's an intriguing counterpoint for this movie, which cribs from The Ledge's plot but adds multimillion-dollar Hollywood sheen. Though The Ledge is arguably the worse of the two films—all that studio financing does, after all, count for something—it has a conviction that Man on a Ledge lacks: a willingness to play fair with the binary, "live or die" promise of its core concept. In both cases, the only tension in a film about a "man on a ledge" is whether or not he'll jump. And in Man on a Ledge, does he?
Here's a spoiler: He does. After running around the building, evading the police in a manner that probably qualifies him to be a Double-O Agent, Worthington's character leaps off the roof—and directly onto a large, inflatable target laid down by the NYPD, just in time to confront Ed Harris and prove his innocence. The rest of the movie advances in a busy narrative blur: Worthington leaves custody, enters a bar, and celebrates his miraculous escape with ally (and new love interest) Elizabeth Banks. A "dead" character is revived, in a not particularly surprising twist. There's a well-timed marriage proposal. "Drinks all around!" cheers everyone. Roll credits. It's a cheat on the film's intriguing central concept, but a fittingly dumb ending to a generally dumb movie.
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