It’s probably a bad sign when, about ten minutes into watching something, you begin thinking about other films that are similar yet much, much better. During Man On A Ledge, I found myself my mind wandering off to Dog Day Afternoon, Sidney Lumet’s vaguely similar yet infinitely superior thriller.
Man On A Ledge at least begins with a sense of rhythm and attention to detail. A well-to-do businessman (Sam Worthington) marches confidently into the reception of a posh New York hotel, books out room 2105 – which boasts a particularly fetching view of the island – orders lobster for his final meal, and steps out of the window onto the ledge. It’s only here that director Asger Leth hints that there’s something not quite right about this apparently wealthy chap: his fingernails are dirty, his knuckles scabbed. He lifts his sleeve to reveal a cheap digital watch – an item at odds with his expensive suit.
From this brisk opening minute or two, Man On A Ledge rapidly devolves into a predictable thriller. In a flashback, we learn that Worthington is actually an ex-cop called Nick Cassidy, in prison for a crime that – wait for it – he didn’t commit. During his father’s funeral service, Cassidy makes a daring escape attempt, which involves stealing a car and, in another staple of glossy thrillers, evading the police by crossing a railway track in front of a speeding train.
Cassidy’s apparent suicide attempt is then revealed to be a diversion for his brother Joey’s robbery of a vault in the building next to the hotel – while Nick draws crowds of morbid rubber neckers in the street below, Joey (Jamie Bell) is busy breaking through the bank’s security system, with the help of his girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez).
What then follows is a story of two halves, neither of them interesting. Worthington’s window ledge media circus, in which a police psychologist played by Elizabeth Banks attempts to prevent him from jumping, is interspersed with Bell and Rodriguez bickering and bumbling their way to the loot.
This being a post-financial crisis thriller, Man On A Ledge’s thieves are depicted as modern-day Robin Hood types, with an out of sorts-looking Ed Harris playing the corporate villain whose fortune they’re seeking to pilfer.
The script throws in untrustworthy cops, a ruthless television journalist (whose character is introduced and then ignored for much of the film), and the usual improvised methods of breaking into secure areas you’ve seen in every robbery thriller of the past 30 years. Man On A Ledge’s story is the epitome of the word cliché, in that its sole reference points are other thrillers. Nothing happens for any other purpose than because such things have always happened in genre films.
There are also lots of things that don’t really make much sense. Given that Cassidy’s an escaped convict, and already a familiar face to the New York police department, it’s a little odd that it takes seemingly forever before someone finally recognises him – even though he’s been the sole topic on the day’s TV news. It’s also strange that nobody seems to notice how chipper Worthington’s character is, given that he’s supposed to be on the brink of suicide.
An implausible plot and familiar storyline wouldn’t be such a problem if Man On A Ledge weren’t so unbelievably dull. Even Brett Ratner managed to winkle a few easy laughs out of Tower Heist, a thematically similar film that just about got by on charm and good-natured chemistry.
Here, nobody seems quite sure how seriously to play it. There are moments that hint at a far harsher, more realistic film – echoes of an earlier version of the script, perhaps – but these are quickly offset by moments of PG-13 violence and misfiring banter between Bell and Rodriguez (and some of this is quite toe-curling, as is a gratuitous underwear scene with Rodriguez, whose clothes gradually disappear as the film progresses).
Man On A Ledge makes inept stabs at contemporary relevance – there are repeated references to moneymen becoming wealthy at the expense of the poor, and the like – but these are often unintentionally funny rather than incisive.
Even at a fairly lean 100 minutes or so, Man On A Ledge feels too long. Its exchanges are staid when quick-fire, zinging dialogue would have brought it to life. And with the likes of Chronicle, The Descendants and even Liam Neeson’s wolf-wrestling festival The Grey all either out already or due for release in a couple of days, it’s rather difficult to recommend a thriller as by-the-numbers and thrill-free as Man On A Ledge.