Every once in a while, it feels as though the entire movie industry is trying to make somebody happen, despite a resolute lack of enthusiasm from audiences about that individual actually happening. It could be a Katherine Heigl, whose romantic comedies seem to have even the biggest apologists for the genre finding her chilly and shrill; it could be a Channing Tatum, an Everyhunk whose very lack of distinctive personality seems to be what some filmmakers are looking for as a blank canvas for their stories.
Into this latter category, kindly include Sam Worthington, star of Man on a Ledge. Worthington is already a uniquely peculiar sort of anonymous movie star, still largely viewed in “oh yeah, that guy” terms despite having starred in a blockbuster sequel (Terminator Salvation), the precursor to a blockbuster sequel (Clash of the Titans) and only the most financially successful movie in the history of the planet (Avatar). Worthington looks as though he were genetically engineered to be an action star, yet in Man on a Ledge, he’s a big part of what’s wrong because he’s been cast by someone who clearly doesn’t understand what he is, and what he most definitely is not.
The story opens with an intriguing snap as we watch Nick Cassidy (Worthington) check into Manhattan’s skyscraping Roosevelt Hotel, chow down on a fancy meal, scrub his fingerprints from the room and creep out onto the ledge outside his 21st-floor window. In flashback, we learn that Cassidy is an ex-cop convicted of a crime—stealing a multimillion-dollar diamond from real-estate tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris)—he swears he didn’t commit. With the help of his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), Nick escapes from custody, and launches a complex plan for proving his innocence—one that requires his presence on that precarious perch.
Various subplots begin playing themselves out as Nick draws media attention to himself. Joey and his girlfriend, Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), work an elaborate heist across the street in search of evidence that will exonerate Nick; Englander prepares for some sort of ribbon-cutting while showing the audience that he’s our villain; a police suicide negotiator (Elizabeth Banks), who has been turned into a hard-drinking wreck by a recent failed talk-down, is summoned by Nick specifically to deal with him; Nick’s ex-partner (Anthony Mackie) starts behaving suspiciously like he has something to hide. The heist part provides the most energy in the banter between Bell and Rodriguez—though, like many movies of this kind, the scenes feel designed more to impress with the cleverness of the plan than with genuine interest in the people carrying it out.
It’s a fast-moving plot machine, admittedly, but there has to be at least a basic effort to make the wronged hero someone worth rooting for. The problem with Worthington is that he commands attention only when he’s in motion; the longer he stays fixed in one place, the more he exposes his limitations. It’s not just that his Australian accent flutters in and out of his dialogue, though that’s certainly a distraction on more than one occasion. He simply doesn’t connect with a viewer, acting busily without achieving the fundamental goal of seeming like a real person. It’s worth speculating that director Asger Leth may have cast Edward Burns—current holder of the “Most Boring Living Actor Who Is Not Luke Wilson” title—in one supporting role strictly to make Worthington appear vibrant by comparison.
Over Man on a Ledge’s final 20 minutes, Worthington gets to extract himself from his stand-very-still-against-this-wall default position and rocket around the Roosevelt, whether along the narrow ledges, through rooms or across the rooftop. He seems to be in his element during those scenes, able to convey intensity in a way that lifts the material to a level of acceptable genre mechanics. Yet the entire premise of Man on a Ledge asks us to connect with the idea that there’s actually a man on that ledge, not merely a gear in the plot. The longer he remains motionless, the more we need to understand what has driven him to this moment. And the more we need to understand Nick as a character, the less wise it seems to cast a guy whose strongest talent seems to be making the costume designer and/or the stunt coordinator look good.
MAN ON A LEDGE
Sam Worthington, Jamie Bell, Elizabeth Banks