'Man on a Ledge' Wastes Its Premise

The question behind Sam Worthington's new thriller: Will he or won't he jump? Answer: Who cares?

The question behind Sam Worthington's thriller: Will he or won't he jump? Answer: Who cares?

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There'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.

There are, of course, movies that have successfully channeled the anger that drives the Occupy Wall Street movement—see, for one of several examples, Margin Call—but Man on a Ledge isn't one of them. This is zeitgeisty in the blandest way possible. Ed Harris's cartoonish villain, a jeweler and real estate mogul, isn't just the 1 percent; he's the .1 percent, with finely tailored suits and dialogue to match ("three years ago, when the market crashed, they said we were finished!" says the rich man who stole $40 million and framed a blue-collar cop for it). The "We are the 99 percent" posturing feels half-baked because the conflict isn't actually about rich vs. poor; it's about good vs. evil, with Harris's snarling villain pointlessly being an asshole to everyone—even when it doesn't serve his objective—just to make sure the audience hates him.

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.