The hero of the red-herring heist flick Man on a Ledge draws two reactions from the Manhattan throng beneath his 21st-floor perch on a midtown hotel. The first, of course, is the predictable "just get it over with" impatience of New Yorkers impeded by police barricades. The second is unlikely populist solidarity, a stick-it-to-the-rich resentment among the 99 percenters whom Republicans would accuse of class warfare. Man on a Ledge is, then, essentially an accidental remake of the recent Tower Heist, with yet another band of blue-collar heroes trying to claw back the ill-gotten gains of an arrogant penthouse villain who pays only 15 percent on his taxes.
Unfortunately, this film doesn't realize it's a comedy. Instead of, say, Leslie Nielsen in the central role, we have a brand of Australian wall paint known as Sam Worthington. His Nick Cassidy is soon revealed in flashbacks not to be a suicidal leaper but a wrongfully imprisoned NYC cop who just busted out of Sing Sing. The poor schmuck was set up by corrupt millionaire David Englander (a bald, gaunt Ed Harris), who owns both the hotel and a treasure vault across the street. By threatening to jump, Nick serves as a diversion for his brother Joey (Brit Jamie Bell, credibly American) to crack the safe that presumably will disgorge both diamonds and exoneration.
It's not a bad setup, and the script (by Pablo F. Fenjves) allows for much suspenseful intercutting between leaper and burglar. On the ledge, stalling for time, Nick demands that disgraced NYPD negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) be the one to try to coax him down. In the building across the street, connected to Nick via radio, Joey gets busy crawling through ducts, dangling down elevator shafts, and using his iPhone to otherwise defeat a high-tech security system. (Aiding him is girlfriend Angie, played by a Wonderbra wrapped around model/telenovela actress Genesis Rodriguez.) Rififi it's not, but Man on a Ledge at least provides the pleasure of hearing someone yell "Cut the red wire!" as if for the first time.
Director-for-hire Asger Leth (Ghosts of Cité Soleil) does what he can with the pedestrian material, pushing the camera out the hotel-room window behind Nick to vertiginous effect. The first time he slips — or pretends to slip — you gasp, but his banter with Lydia soon becomes as predictable as his footwork and pleas to the crowd below. ("I'm an innocent man!") When, in yet another ruse, he tosses handfuls of cash down to the street, the ensuing scramble hardly feels desperate — not a riot in a Haitian slum, but tired extras stamping their feet to keep warm. Man on a Ledge seeks to be somewhat topical, positioning Nick as populist hero opposite the venal Englander (who, we're told, "lost $30 million to Lehman Brothers" during the crash). There are also nods to Occupy Wall Street and Dog Day Afternoon, but the whole thing plays like random outtakes from Law & Order. You keep waiting for Chris Noth to wander onto the scene.
With his pickled shark's smile, Harris is a welcome presence left with regrettably little to do. Down on the sidewalk, Kyra Sedgwick chews into her role as a cynical TV reporter, hitting the R in her name — Suzie Morales — like the pull-cord on a lawn mower. Her part is also too small to matter, but she and Edward Burns — as Lydia's don't-give-a-shit NYPD superior — are clearly aware that the material should be played for laughs. Worthington wouldn't know how to behave if the film were a comedy; and poor Banks, after a promising, Young Adult-style introduction, isn't allowed to goose the script or push beyond the glass ceiling of her character.
"You and I have a lot in common," says Nick to Lydia at one point in the negotiation. He means that both are in need of redemption, but what they really share is the burden of playing characters who — like the movie — are essentially self-parodic. In other words, they're meant for each other. We look forward to the sequel: Couple on a Parapet.