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January movies have traditionally been thought of as leftovers, movies that weren't strong enough to compete the holiday season that's just ended that aren't good enough to be moved to a more competitive month. These are the orphans, the films that studios are nervous about. They may be packed with movie stars, but for the most part, if you see a movie set for January, you can count on it being a lesser product overall.
That's slowly changing, though, and a film like "Man On A Ledge" is a good example of a more ambitious type of January film, a movie that has some solid star power and an interesting premise and some worthwhile moments. It's not great, but it's better than its release date might indicate. It's loaded with improbabilities, but there's an energy to the way the story is told and the cast certainly seems to be enjoying the game they're playing.
Asger Leth is the director of the film, and he comes to this from a very odd background. His film "Ghosts Of Cite Solieil" was a harrowing documentary about a "secret Army" in Haiti, and the nerve it took to capture that footage was impressive. His father is Jorgen Leth, the filmmaker who was so gleefully tortured by Lars Von Trier in "The Five Obstructions," and Asger was part of that picture as well.
Whatever I would have predicted from Asger Leth based on that earlier work, it would not have been this thriller about a man named Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) who is sent to jail for a crime he did not commit. When he manages to escape, he puts an elaborate plan in motion to prove his innocence and nail the person who accused him falsely, and step one of that plan involves him stepping out onto a ledge of a local hotel.
Screenwriter Pablo Fenjves is probably used to implausibility, considering his big claim to fame before this is as the co-writer of O.J. Simpson's disturbing "If I Did It," the not-quite-a-confession that featured loving descriptions of the decapitation of Nicole Brown Simpson. I have no idea how he ended up mixed up in all of that, but it certainly adds an unintentional level of creepy to the story of a man desperate to prove his innocence of a crime everyone is sure he committed. Still, if you can tune that out, the movie does offer up some pleasures along the way.
Probably the most successful part of the film involves Joey (Jamie Bell), Nick's brother, and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), who are involved in Nick's plan. Their job is to pull off a heist while Nick has everyone distracted, a heist that is designed to prove Nick's claims. Rodriguez is, to put it gently, a stunning young woman, and Jamie Bell's crack comic timing combined with her attitude makes for a winning combination. They are like the worst Mission: Impossible team ever, and there's something charming about the way they handle things. So often in these films, everyone's an expert at everything, and here, they play things just realistic enough that it's enjoyable. They have real chemistry, and I honestly would have liked even more of them in the film.
Worthington's got a thankless role in the film, all exposition and plot mechanics, and while he's fine in the role, as is Elizabeth Banks as the cop in charge of getting him off the ledge, their charisma is largely in service of a storyline that's not particularly absorbing. We see lots of familiar faces like Anthony Mackie, Titus Welliver, Ed Burns, and Kyra Sedgwick along the way, but the script itself just feels like a mash-up of moments from other films. Ed Harris plays the main bad guy in the movie, and aside from the fact that Harris has become visually alarming as he's gotten older, all skull and sneer at this point, he's not even an especially memorable opponent.
As a whole, "Man On A Ledge" feels like a big fat "almost," a movie where there is some skill in how it was made and some real firepower in the cast, but it can't really deliver on the potential of the parts, and like many January movies, if this is one you catch up with on video, you probably won't regret waiting.
"Man On A Ledge" opened today.