Back when there were video stores, none of them had a section marked “For Rainy Sundays When You Have the Flu,” but you know exactly the kind of movies you would find there: Slickly produced, full of familiar faces, a somewhat engaging plot, but nothing you might lose the thread of if you should doze off for ten minutes.
That’s where they’d be filing “Man on a Ledge,” a predictable and underwritten thriller with a cast just reputable enough to get it into movie theaters and a plot just interesting enough to keep you seated, even if you wind up being three or four moves ahead of the script. (Even its predictability is somehow comforting, just like chicken soup for the bed-ridden.) It’s not a despicable film, to be sure, but it’s a time-filler at best.
Sam Worthington, still failing to mask his native Australian accent, stars as disgraced NYPD cop Nick Cassidy, who’s been serving time at Sing Sing for stealing the legendary Monarch Diamond from Manhattan real-estate bigwig David Englander (Ed Harris) and selling it off in so many pieces that they can never be found.
After escaping from prison during his father’s funeral, Nick checks into a room at a hotel run by Englander and steps out onto the ledge, where a crowd forms — first the gawkers, then the cops, then the vultures of the media, represented by newswoman Suzie Morales. (Kyra Sedgwick makes for odd cross-cultural casting, but at least she gets a laugh out of hyper-enunciating her last name.)
The police send up Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns) to talk Nick off the ledge, but Nick insists upon Detective Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), who’s none too popular among her peers after failing to prevent a rookie cop from leaping to his death a few months earlier. As the plot unravels, we figure out why Nick, who insists on his innocence, wants an outsider on the force to be his intermediary, and we also see that his every move is carefully timed to distract attention away from the activities of his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) across the street at Englander’s diamond vault.
“Man on a Ledge” tosses in the requisite double-crosses and “surprise” revelations, but nothing that should come as too much of a shock to anyone who’s paying attention. (Here’s a general movie commandment: When a seemingly dispensable role is played by a recognizable character actor, that role ain’t gonna be dispensable.) By the time the film reaches its climax, you may find yourself having to restrain the occasional, “Oh, come ON!” when cops suddenly forget everything they know about locked doors and elevators just to keep the story going.
No one in the cast embarrasses themselves too much — although Banks’ attempt to come off as grizzled and boozy, waking up in a vodka-bottle-strewn apartment yet still looking glamorous, is worth an unintentional laugh or two — but no one’s going to be pulling clips from this movie for their best-of reel, either.
While the notable names remember their lines and avoid tripping over the furniture, the one performance that sticks comes from Genesis Rodriguez as Joey’s girlfriend and sidekick. Even though she’s been dressed and lit to look like Jordana Brewster, Rodriguez takes a stock character and gives it the zest that most of “Man on a Ledge” is so sorely missing.
Director Asger Leth (making his narrative feature debut) and cinematographer Paul Cameron (“Collateral,” “Gone in 60 Seconds”) make the most out of the title’s vertiginous possibilities, but the rest of the film gets mired down in Pablo F. Fenjves’ mundane screenplay, which adds nothing to the lexicon of prison breaks, high-rise heists or suicide negotiations.
At the moment, “Man on a Ledge” is just another forgettable January release. But one day, it’s going to make someone buzzed on DayQuil and clutching a box of tissues forget about their phlegmy cough for a couple of hours.