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Man on a Ledge

On the outside looking way down

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / January 27, 2012
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People must be really hungry for a movie about justice. A few nights ago a packed house at a preview for “Man on a Ledge’’ cheered at the plot twists and the big comeuppance scene. They didn’t care that none of the actors has anything to do. You could cast this movie with potato chips and still get cheers when one of the bad guys is cuffed. It doesn’t matter that none of it is to be believed.

When New York police detectives, including one played by Ed Burns, show up to talk Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), a fugitive who swears he’s innocent, down from a Manhattan hotel ledge, he requests a specific officer. It’s Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), who, when we meet her, might be waking up after a bender but looks and acts like Elizabeth Banks and not at all like a bleary Detective Lydia. This is one of those cops Who Made a Big Mistake that she must spend the rest of the movie ruing until redemption. But Banks just isn’t that sort of performer. She projects too much confidence to screw anything up and too much intelligence to do any of what Lydia does, namely to climb out on the ledge alongside Nick and not throw herself off.

In any case, across town Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez play a young couple breaking into a building - and by “across town’’ I mean across the street. They climb through an elevator shaft and crack a safe. They have gadgets, gear, and banter. But for the same price of admission, you could attend Tom Cruise’s master class in ludicrous stunt work and never think once what you do watching Bell and Rodriguez: I could do that - even though it’s impossible.

Yes, what they’re up to is directly connected to what Nick is up to, and the trailers and ads don’t make a secret of the relationship between one side of the street and the other. But there are other, increasingly implausible surprises, one of which requires us to believe that no one in the entire NYPD can identify Nick from, say, the live updates from Kyra Sedgwick’s pushy TV reporter. Others involve such actors as Anthony Mackie, Titus Welliver, and a dapper, dastardly Ed Harris.

The movie doesn’t give an audience anything that makes sense. How does Harris smoke a cigar that appears to weigh more than he does? And whence is Worthington’s accent? He sounds like Russell Crowe on “Serpico’’ night at the Jazz Hands Café. The script by Pablo F. Fenjves has a rigged sense of justice and calls for at least one stunt sequence that works only in the movies and appears to use actual movie stunt props. Asger Leth directed “Man on a Ledge.’’ It has the on-the-street grit of Sidney Lumet’s New York, if Lumet’s New York was just a single-player game by Electronic Arts and if you think all Lumet did to make his magic was use lots of unsteady camerawork and rely on chases through hotel suites and kitchens.

The movie has a kind of outsize desperation. All it wants to do is wow us.

And there’s just enough for an eager, malnourished audience to cheer. But it’s the greasiest entertainment. You’re not going to the movies, really. You’re pulling up to the drive-thru.

Wesley Morris can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @wesley_morris.

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MAN ON A LEDGE Directed by: Asger Leth

Written by: Pablo F. Fenjves

Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Ed Burns, Titus Welliver, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick,

and Ed Harris

At: Boston Common,

Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 102 minutes

PG-13 (violence and brief strong language)

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