It is generally a fair proposition to accept the basic premise of a film, no matter how ludicrous, and see where the filmmakers take it. (And sometimes ludicrousness is the point, for instance in the Crank movies.) So Man On A Ledge should be allowed to build on the following foundation: Ex-cop Sam Worthington, sent to jail for stealing a $40 million diamond breaks out, checks into a Manhattan high-rise hotel, and climbs out onto a 25th-floor ledge, all in an elaborate effort to distract the authorities from something else happening across the street. Credulity is stretched nearly to the breaking point here: Worthington has chosen the least-efficient way imaginable to prove his innocence. And yet we must generously accept the plan and see how it develops, because it may be more ingenious than it sounds—or, in the Crank example, more transcendently silly than it sounds.
Yet as the plot unfolds, brick by brick, the structure starts to wobble until it finally collapses into unintentional comedy, complete with moles aplenty, at least two Talking Killers, and decisions even sillier than breaking out of jail and walking out on a hotel ledge as a means to exoneration. Man On A Ledge stirs the pot reasonably well in the early going, as Worthington methodically goes about what appears to be a suicide attempt, but turns out to be a complicated ruse. A star-filled cast of allies and adversaries surrounds him: Elizabeth Banks as the police psychologist trying to talk him down, Edward Burns as her shifty-eyed (and sometimes just sleepy) partner, Anthony Mackie as Worthington’s loyal ex-partner, Jamie Bell as his brother/co-conspirator, Ed Harris as a cigar-chomping real-estate magnate, and Kyra Sedgwick as the dogged TV reporter on the ground.
The carnival atmosphere that’s whipped up around Worthington’s stunt recalls Dog Day Afternoon, which the filmmakers acknowledge directly with a few shouts of “Attica! Attica!” But Man On A Ledge isn’t a piece of social commentary, and it isn’t psychologically acute, either, when it comes to assessing its hero’s desperate situation. (Unlike Al Pacino in Dog Day, Worthington isn’t an amateur.) So the film really lives or dies on the integrity of its plot mechanics, with nary a theme to subvert or exploit. And to that end, it winds up as a calamitous heap of mangled gears, snapped levers, and rusty springs.