Someone once described a prominent politician as “sounding the way dumb people think smart people talk.” Man on a Ledge conveys a similar sensation: trying with all its might to be clever and stumbling into a seemingly endless array of bottomless plot holes as a result. You end up rooting for it after a while… the same way you root for one of those silent film comedians trying to make it across a room full of mousetraps. It ain’t gonna happen, but at least it invests you in the outcome.
There’s nothing wrong with a little dumb fun of course. Numerous films work much better if you turn off your brain, and their entertainment value doesn’t suffer unduly for their rampant idiocy. But they usually embrace their good-natured dopiness and don’t engage in a full-court press for an advanced degree in Smart Guy Plotting. Man on a Ledge does – and oh my does it mean it – while we spit out confused questions like, “Why wouldn’t the bad guy just shoot him?” and “Who the hell looks up in New York City?” It plows forward regardless, mistaking a kind of incoherent excitement for good storytelling. If only it could harness that energy to a less dippy script.
The questions start almost from the beginning when a man named Walker (Sam Worthington) checks into a luxury hotel, opens the window of his room, and steps out on the ledge. Every hotel in the country seals its windows to prevent just this sort of scenario, but the bullshit alarms going off in our head go utterly unheeded. The hotel sits right across the street from his real goal: a jewelry exchange targeted by his working-joe brother (Jamie Bell) and the brother’s spicy girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez). He serves as a distraction while they do the wetwork, capturing the attention of the local media and a well-meaning police counselor (Elizabeth Banks) trying to talk him down.
We jump back and forth between plot threads admirably enough, as a number of different players enter the scene and Man on a Ledge gradually explains what exactly they’re doing here. Unfortunately, none of the reasons add up to a compelling story, and while the cast includes the likes of Ed “I’m Here to Save the Film” Harris, Kyra “I’m Here to Save the Film” Sedgwick and William “I’m Here to Save the Film” Sadler, none of them actually save the film. Instead, they struggle through one-note premises and flat-out clichés, aided by some breathless pacing but unable to make a dent in the illogical logic upon which Man on a Ledge depends.
Every step is punctuated by serious head scratchers… like how these guys figured out the interior layout of the jewelry exchange or why the cops didn’t send someone to guard the vault instead of lounging around outside. More detailed questions involve particulars of the scheme, the obstacles they need to overcome and the reasoning and resolution behind it all. People know far more than they should when it’s convenient to the plot, then suddenly turn into complete dunderheads when the scenario needs a goose. We’re left with a lot of mechanistic motivations and slumming actors trying to wrap their heads around them. The camera angles convey an occasional queasy moment as we share Worthingon’s gaze at the long drop below, but the film’s modest assets can’t eel around the dodgy questions and ultimately pedestrian purpose behind it all. By the time one of the onlookers starts shouting “Attaca!” it’s far too late to salvage anything. The line merely reminds us of better films and prompts us to wonder why we aren’t watching them instead. Man on a Ledge can’t provide the first hint of an answer… and frankly seems irritated that we'd ask.