One has to be extremely careful in not overselling Man on a Ledge. While it isn’t exactly a “great” or a “good” movie, it’s the kind of film that harkens back to the grindhouse potboilers of the mid to late 70s; movies like Search and Destroy and The Glove, only this time with a modern sheen and a better cast of actors who are up for pretty much anything. Ostensibly a cross between Inside Man and The Negotiator with a healthy dose of Michael Bay style ridiculousness, Man on a Ledge might be the most fun to be had in cinemas this January. It’s an unabashed crowd pleaser that really doesn’t care that it doesn’t make an iota of logical sense.
Following a brazen escape from police custody at his father’s funeral, former New York City police officer Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) holes himself up in a room at the famed Roosevelt Hotel, climbs out on a ledge and threatens to jump. He asks specifically for a disgraced, often hungover rookie negotiator (Elizabeth Banks) to talk him down, but the threat of his suicide is all a ruse designed to distract authorities from a heist going on across the street designed to help clear his name and prove him innocent of the diamond theft that landed him in Sing Sing in the first place.
While Cassidy plays to the crowd below and annoys the police (including site leader Ed Burns), across the street at the offices of ruthless real estate tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris), Nick’s brother (Jamie Bell) and his future sister-in-law (Genesis Rodriguez) are attempting to steal the $20 million dollar diamond that will prove Englander framed Nick. Oh, and while all THIS is happening there’s a reporter (Kyra Sedgwick) turning the scene into a media circus AND Nick’s former partner (Anthony Mackie) is trying to get to the bottom of things away from the site.
While it sounds like there’s an overabundance of plot going on in director Asger Leth’s first fictional feature, the film itself would beg to differ otherwise. It’s all a springboard for launching some incredibly implausible, but wholly elaborate set pieces that feel like nostalgic homages to action films of the past rather than wholesale replications of them. There’s the scene where a car has to outrun a train, a scene where someone has to cut the red wire, the scene where security cameras need to be taken out. These are all standard genre conventions, but Leth and writer Pablo F. Fenjves actually come up with some inventive twists that make the ridiculous subject matter all the more fun to watch.
The cast seems in on the fun for the most part, especially Harris who gets to devour anything and everything in his path and has one of the best character introductions and sendoffs in recent memory. Banks and Burns make for great foils to each other and they almost deserve a movie of their own. Everyone else seems to be having a blast, except for Worthington, who takes this material a bit more seriously than it needs to be. When everything around the main character is more fun to watch than the guy on the ledge is, that’s a bit of a problem.
The final fifteen minutes or so of Man on a Ledge are burned into my memory. It’s a conclusion that is equal parts thrilling and completely idiotic in the best possible way. Audiences at the preview screening chuckled at it, but by the end of the film they cheered. Man on a Ledge achieves its goals splendidly by giving the audience exactly what they want. There’s a Man. On a Ledge. And it’s pretty awesome.