I accidentally ordered this movie from Netflix and paid heavily for my mistake—I meant to order the documentary Man on Wire. Man on a Ledge came out in 2012, and stars Sam Worthington as, well, a man on a ledge. This is an action movie (in theory), with a plot that made sense about twenty percent of the time. I’ll do my best to break it down, but the story line was so unbelievable I tossed my pen and paper at heaven ten different times, thus my notes are unreliable.
The movie opens with a guy walking through Manhattan, checking into a midtown hotel, going to sleep, waking up, eating a fancy breakfast, and then stepping out on the building’s ledge (his room’s on the 22nd floor). If that sentence was boring to read, just imagine watching it for ten minutes, accompanied by weird synthesizer music. Quick cut to the backstory, via flashback: the man is a disgraced and convicted but innocent cop, Nick Cassidy. He’s let out of jail for a day to attend to his father’s funeral. Standing next to his dad’s coffin, Nick easily takes down two armed guards and makes off in his brother’s SUV. With four other squad cars in hot pursuit (so, ten cops to escort one prisoner to a funeral), Nick drives in front of a train, crashes the SUV, and jumps the train, I guess—his actual escape is made off camera.
Flash-forward to the present, in a sloppy cut: three seconds after Nick steps out on the ledge, a pedestrian on the street starts yelling and waving (“Aah! There’s a man up there!). This initial plot hole sets off a chain reaction of dozens more. No one standing on a New York City street looks up that high. Actual studies have been done; there’s already too much to look at and process at street level, people don’t glance more than twenty or thirty feet over their heads when walking around. And then there’s smart phone oblivion. It’s hard to even see up to the 22nd floor from the street. So, right, hyper-aware pedestrians start shouting, someone calls 911 and the media, and the plot is off and limping.
A grumpy old dispatcher scratching his potbelly barks into his radio, “We got…a man on a ledge,” (I love it when a scriptwriter gently works the title in) and seconds later three or four hundred police officers arrive on the scene, along with fire trucks, paramedics, and a plucky young female detective nursing a hangover. Guess the budget cuts haven’t hit this parallel universe New York yet. Officer Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) is tasked with talking Nick off the ledge while standing her ground among a bunch of departmental swinging dicks. Other cops of importance to the storyline: gum-chewing prick who is “secretly” working for the main bad guy; suit-wearing wiseass who fumbles the ball every time; Nick’s former partner, also corrupt.
I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but since I’ve come this far, I’ll try to explain the rest of the plot, which is about as solid as a Jell-O mold. Before all the current drama in his life, Nick was moonlighting as a security guard for Mr. Englander (Ed Harris, in a role that marks the low point of his career); while escorting Mr. Englander and a giant blood diamond, Nick was knocked out by thugs and framed for the robbery. His former partner and Officer gum-wad set him up; neither of these B actors is able to play both sides credibly—as in most cop movies, they cover a lack of acting ability with a permanent stink eye.
So, um, plot summary…after his escape from Sing Sing, Nick plans his redemption with the help of his brother and supposedly dead dad. Other dark side plots were constructed to support all this backstory, but as crucial details were barked into police walkie-talkies, they only served to make my head ache.
Across the street at evil Mr. Englander’s building, Nick’s brother Joey and Joey’s smoking Latina gf Angie break in and try to find the “stolen” diamond. Nick coaches them through a tiny ear microphone, while chatting up Officer Mercer in a play for time. I would have paid more attention to the man on a ledge and the woman attempting to seduce him inside if they’d been deaf mutes miming out a relationship; their dialogue alternated between “I need you to trust me!”, “Are you going to trust me?!”, and “Dammit, you’ve got to trust me!” Officer Mercer is cocky to the point of unbearable, and also the movie never explains how she woke up from a bender sporting perfect hair and makeup. At some point a news chopper blasts by, ten feet from Nick’s head. Papers fly off desks inside and people cover their ears in pain while Nick and Mercer, now eight feet away from the helicopter, undergo no change in facial expression or hairdo integrity.
All right, dear reader, I’ll cut it short (unlike the movie, which ran on a half an hour too long). Police incompetence facilitates the latter half of the movie; despite 900 cops running around, including 3 SWAT teams, one crooked cop (Officer Gum-chewing Dickhead) manages to take down Joey and Angie (after they recover the diamond and pistol whip Ed Harris a few times), and corner them and Nick up on the roof—at some point, Nick had to flee his ledge (the SWAT team dangled a fishing hook) and scrambled up to the roof.
Meanwhile, the ex-partner locks himself in the ledge-adjacent hotel room; when Mercer and Suit-wearing Wiseass finally realize he’s no bueno and shoot out the lock, the guy hides behind the door. Mercer and Wiseass barge in and take a full minute to stumble around looking perplexed, which enables ex-partner to slip out the door. He races up to the roof and shoots Gum-chewing Dickhead (they had names, I just didn’t bother to write them down; neither did I remember to note the director or screenwriter—but they know who they are, and what they’ve done), who dies masticating the same wad of Juicy Fruit he’s had bunched in his cheek since scene 2.
Nick dives off the roof into a Mr. Bouncy Bounce crash pad to cheers from the huge crowd below—several hundred New Yorkers who don’t have anywhere else to be—and tackles Mr. Englander (I think he took the diamond back on the roof, it was all so crappily executed), then waves it over his head, proving his innocence seconds before New York’s semi-finest would have dragged him away. The tacked on last scene takes place in an Irish bar, where all the cops who were literally gunning for Nick minutes before convene to slap him on the back. Mercer drops her professional guard to flirt shamelessly and drunkenly with the hero, and the movie’s belittlement of women is complete.
Man on a Legde had a few chances to redeem itself; Sam Worthington is not a bad actor, some of the aerial views of NYC are interesting, and Angie has a great rack. But, as with so many other bloated action movies, an implausible script full of cardboard caricatures drags its bleeding carcass on into putrefaction. The end credit music, however—a spazy rock number shouting “What have I done?” over and over—was an inspired choice, as it mirrored my thoughts on sitting through this mess exactly. Star rating: one, for the occasionally cool shots of New York’s skyline. Next time movie, call me and I’ll give you a push.