by Dwight Brown film critic for DwightBrownInk.com and NNPA News Wire | 1/16/2024, 11:31 a.m.
Any film that begins with an elaborate, broad daylight heist deserves viewers’ attention. It’s what comes between that intro and the film’s adrenalin-pumping final hour that may give Netflix audiences reasons to take a refrigerator break.
Comedian and comic actor Kevin Hart tries to ditch his funny, smart-mouth persona to play a suave international thief. Hart showed he can stretch from his comic roots in the drama The Upside. But can he, with the aid of action film director F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious), handle an Idris Elba type role in a film that should have Ocean’s Eleven-style intrigue? We shall see.
Cyrus (Hart) and his band of sophisticated thieves are in Venice, Italy at an auction where they intend to swindle away a famous NFT artwork (aka Non-fungible token, or a digital asset stored on a blockchain that represents content or even physical items). Its creator is the very popular AI artist named N8 (Jacob Batalon, Spider Man: No Way Home). An Interpol agent named Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle) and her boss Huxley (Sam Worthington, Avatar) surveil the nattily dressed dude who tries to outbid everyone for the AI images.
Cyrus is confident he can pull off this caper because his international crew specializes in identity fraud, money laundering and thievery: Camila the pilot (Úrsula Corberó), Mi-Sun the hacker (Yun Jee Kim), Magnus a safecracker (Billy Magnussen), Luke the engineer (Viveik Kalra) and Denton a master of disguises (Vincent D'Onofrio). It’s a great surprise when someone blackmails the gang into a mission to thwart a possible disaster masterminded by a crimelord ecoterrorist (Jean Reno). What’s on the line? $500M in gold!
The premise has merit. The director has a filmography (The Italian Job) that shows he can make this project work. What about the script? Screenwriter Daniel Kunka is fine with outlining events, far less accomplished with establishing three-dimensional characters, memorable dialogue and a storyline not burdened with unnecessary backstories. A lot of the film’s wrinkles and glaring mistakes could have been ironed out in a table read where the cast and crew aired their opinions. However, there’s plenty of evidence from what’s on the screen that that kind of fine-tuning never happened.
Starting the film in picturesque Venice (cinematographer Bernhard Jasper) and ending with steady doses of action was a smart choice. Shooting so many interiors ((production design Dominic Watkins, Dolittle) and exteriors in funky ways that telegraph the use of green screen trickery, was not so smart. Brawls inside a jet look particularly fake.
Gray’s direction is decent, but you wish he’d taken more time to develop a heady, intricate, death-defying crime thriller style. Something in the vein of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch or Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eight. The lack of clever slights of hand, or cheeky dialogue makes Lift look like it came off an assembly line.
Hart is funny. Cyrus is meant to be debonair. Either hire someone like Elba for the role, or let Hart bring the cray cray his fans love. He seems too reigned in. Mbatha-Raw is very adept at making her character more than what’s on the page. Still these two leads lack chemistry, when they should set the screen on fire. Worthington is suitable as the Interpol stiff. D’Onofrio is fine. French actor Jean Reno plays the villain quite well with a believable sneer.
Thankfully for streaming fans, who’ve waited one full hour for the movie to find its footing, Lift eventually dials up the clashes, chases, fights and skirmishes until it ends at 1h 47m.
If you’ve never met a heist movie you didn’t like, and that’s a low bar, pull up a chair and indulge.
Visit Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.