Between last year’s ill-received drama “The Ledge” and the marginally better, more action-driven “Man on a Ledge,” auds may well find themselves craving a movie in which a man threatens to jump off a building for non-gimmicky, genuinely suicidal reasons. Centered around a fugitive seeking to exonerate himself in the most out-there manner possible, this cloddishly contrived suspenser is too busy to bore, but too farfetched to thrill, combining routine heist-thriller machinations with dialogue that often thuds like a body hitting asphalt. Quick theatrical playoff and better ancillary fortunes look likely.
Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) checks into a Manhattan hotel one morning, orders an expensive last meal, and promptly fulfills the title’s high-concept promise by climbing out the window. As vulture-like TV reporters and lip-smacking bystanders swarm in the streets below, the NYPD is quick to arrive on the scene, specifically officer Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), the professional sweet-talker who spends most of the movie trying to coax this potential jumper back off the ledge.
But as Pablo F. Fenjves’ screenplay too quickly makes clear, Nick, himself an ex-cop, has no real intention of jumping. A flashback to one month earlier reveals Nick’s daring escape from prison, where he was sent after being convicted of stealing a massive diamond from powerful tycoon David Englander (Ed Harris). Nick is determined to clear his name, and his so-called suicide attempt is in fact an elaborate diversion, buying time while his brother, Joey (Jamie Bell), and Joey’s g.f., Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), plunder Englander’s vault and prove the jewel never went missing in the first place.
Even leaving aside the fact that breaking and entering is perhaps not the ideal way to establish one’s innocence, “Man on a Ledge” is rife with implausibilities and outright howlers. “How far would you go to get back at a man who took everything from you?” Nick fumes at Lydia, a line that would have been better reserved for the one-sheet. Notwithstanding Worthington and Banks’ natural appeal and mutual you-can-trust-me rapport, their protracted ledge-and-window back-and-forth too often lets the tension go slack.
Not much better is Joey and Angie’s ongoing banter, supplying tiresome comic relief as they attempt to penetrate the vault. Director Asger Leth (making a Hollywood debut after his intense 2006 documentary “Ghosts of Cite Soleil”) does extract a certain mechanical tension from the gizmo-oriented heist proceedings: With Henry Jackman’s score setting a percussive rhythm, the pic makes deft use of heat-sensor alarms, security cameras and the image of svelte, stripped-down Rodriguez sliding her way down an airshaft.
But elsewhere, an eye-rolling obviousness persists in all aspects of narrative, character and dialogue, as the pic traffics in complications but few surprises. As soon as Harris’ Englander appears, eyes all a-glower, it’s clear precisely who he is and what his function will be; something similar could be said of Anthony Mackie as Nick’s former partner on the force. Sharpest supporting turn comes from Kyra Sedgwick as a bitchy TV reporter whose eagerness to exploit the situation lends the technically competent pic a measure of satirical heft.