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MOVIE REVIEW: Ingenious plot of 'Man of a Ledge' puts audiences on edge

In this film image released by Summit Entertainment, Elizabeth Banks, left, and Sam Worthington are shown in a scene from "Man on a Ledge." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment, Myles Aronowitz)

In this film image released by Summit Entertainment, Elizabeth Banks, left, and Sam Worthington are shown in a scene from "Man on a Ledge." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment, Myles Aronowitz)

Man On a Ledge

(PG-13)

2 out of 4 Stars

The problem with most action thrillers is that they're top-heavy with action, low on thrills and stuffed to the gills with crackling pot-boiler dialogue meant to divert audiences' attention away from so-so plots. The exact opposite is the case for "Man on a Ledge" where an ingenious plot is supported with decent twists and borderline inane situations and dialogue. If Quentin Tarantino was given a chance to overhaul the script, this could have been a very good movie.

Although the director (Asger Leth) and the writer (Pablo Fenjves) have both been around for a while, this is the first live-action feature for both of them which could explain why everything comes across as tentative and padded. Making the switch from documentaries to adventure was a big leap for Leth who should have probably bridged the genre switch with a low-key drama. Fenjves cut his teeth penning made-for-TV B-films where the narrative arcs are much shorter and the quality bar is decidedly lower.

It is worth mentioning that Fenjves ghost wrote the O.J. Simpson book "If I Did It," a "fictional" account about the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Ironically, Fenjves also lived next door to Nicole on the night she was murdered.

The filmmakers' best decision was in starting the movie in the chronological middle of the story. We're introduced to Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) as he checks in (with an alias) to New York's famed Roosevelt hotel. After a breakfast of champagne and lobster, he writes a note, removes his fingerprints from everything, goes out on the ledge and announces to a rapidly growing swarm of onlookers below that he's going to jump.

The next scene taking place a month or so earlier shows Nick taking a beating at the hands of some fellow inmates in a prison courtyard and then talking about it with Mike (Anthony Mackie) a detective whose body language speaks of guilt and remorse. Mike listens to Nick ramble on about his innocence, but Nick never reveals what it is he didn't do.

In more ways than one Nick's ledge walk is a carefully orchestrated piece of subterfuge designed to put the attention on him while his associates are up to no good nearby. Exactly what they're doing and why isn't touched on until well into the second act and not made clear until well into the third and Fenjves gets high marks for not giving away too much too soon.

On the downside, the space between the few bright spots is littered with action-crime cliches and predictable stock characters, the worst being the three main police officers. Negotiator Lydia (Elizabeth Banks) is called to the scene after yet another losing night doing battle with the bottle. She's trying to deal with a recent unpleasant professional situation that has been turned into a crass in-joke by her peers, especially Jack (Edward Burns).

Jack is an instant irritant present only to taunt Lydia who was requested specifically by Nick for reasons revealed later. Being a native New Yorker, Burns does the talk and the walk effortlessly but adds nothing to the story. Titus Welliver ("Deadwood," "Lost," "The Good Wife") plays the lead SWAT officer on the scene and oozes slime before ever uttering a barking word.

While much more agreeable, Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez as Nick's cohorts play an often bickering romantic couple who are impossible to be taken seriously. They pull off a series of elaborate exercises that totally defy logic and sometimes the laws of physics. This is made somewhat easier to take when the very fit Rodriguez strips down to reveal a carefully positioned hot pink bikini -- evidently the latest in covert op apparel.

The lead in "Avatar" and the weakest link in last year's brilliant thriller "The Debt," the Australian Worthington certainly has the physique, chiseled features and perpetual stubble to take on any run of the mill action throwaway, but is sorely lacking in anything resembling range. This becomes the most glaring during the scenes Worthington shares with an emaciated and usually economic Ed Harris who is over the top the entire time.

If all you're looking for is an action flick that won't tax your gray matter that much, "Man on a Ledge" will suffice but just barely. For everyone else -- especially anyone who sufferers from acrophobia (fear of heights) -- you'll probably want to pass on it. (Summit Entertainment)