Man on a Ledge: It’s a testament to Sam Worthington’s general shrugworthiness as an actor that even though dude was in Avatar, the highest-grossing movie ever, it still seems weird that he’s able to bounce into lead roles (he was even taking leads before Avatar hit! Remember Terminator: Salvation? No? Well, that’s ok). He turns up not just in further effects spectaculars like Clash of the Titans, but thrillers like The Debt or Man on a Ledge, movies that might benefit from the presence of, well, presence. Worthington isn’t a bad actor (although his accent slips in and out enough that I’ve spent multiple movies wondering how Australian his character was supposed to be), but he isn’t really taking heavy-duty acting parts anyway, which makes his poor-man’s-Russell-Crowe schtick a little wearying in movies like Ledge. This also continues his streak, interrupted only by The Debt, of being extremely serious in movies that are deeply, at times overpoweringly silly.
Man on a Ledge is kind of a dopey version of Inside Man, with Worthington playing a framed cop using a ledge as his bully pulpit slash a distraction for the secret heist-based plan to prove his innocence. It could be a swell pulp thriller, but settles for watchably preposterous (and I don’t mean somewhat implausible if you think about it; I mean full-on stupid disregard for real-life logic, especially in the amusingly rushed final half-hour). Worthington is probably the most correctly cast person onscreen, yet he’s shown up by an against-type Elizabeth Banks (as a hard-bitten cop!), a scenery-gnawing Ed Harris (as the sleazy bad guy!), the Man in Black from Lost (as a hard-bitten sleazy cop!), Jamie Bell doing an American accent and flirting with the wonderfully named Genesis Rodriguez (sadly, her character is just called Angie). Worthington’s even outshined by the likes of Edward Fucking Burns, playing a shruggy colleague of Banks with bemused detachment. But the bloke does keep an ultra-straight face throughout this nonsense, so at very least, he’s a determined one. Maybe he’s built to last in this business after all. (Insert cigar-chomping gesture here.)
The Grey: I didn’t know you had it in ya, Joe Carnahan. After Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, I expected any Carnahan thriller starring Liam Neeson to include Neeson running at a wolf with broken-glass boxing gloves, something that actually happens in the trailer to this movie. The Grey still has its share of macho posturing, but given the hyperactive bluster of Carnahan’s previous work (even the grittier Narc went a little nuts), it’s surprisingly adept at exploring the utter fear behind said posturing. As such, reluctant alpha male and wolf expert Neeson also volunteers that he’s scared shitless and anyone else in his party (a group of plane-crash survivors trekking through the Alaskan wilderness) should be, too. It’s still a guyish, sometimes maudlin anti-adventure, but The Grey finds ways to be scary beyond exit, pursued by a bunch of wolves. It’ll still become overrated by bros and nerds alike, but at least it’ll be for its philosophical pretensions rather than its grinning stupidity. For my money, this picture is Carnahan’s best yet. (Insert more chomping of cigar lit by $50 bill.)
One for the Money: Or, Katherine Heigl’s Career Philosophy! Lionsgate takes another shot at the Heigl romcom-with-guns niche that they seem pretty convinced will take off one day. As with Killers, they’ve opted not to screen One for the Money for grumpy ol’ critics, which is innovative in the sense that romantic comedies almost always screen for critics, no matter how terrible they are. Also: One for the Money is based on the popular Stephanie Plum book series by Janet Evanovich, so it’s kind of troubling that it’s being treated like Killers 2: Even Kutcher’s Out. I know a fuckload of mystery readers and librarians will be pretty pissed off if this movie, starring Heigl as Jersey girl turned bounty hunter Plum, sucks. Unfortunately for Evanovich (in the sense that she probably likes her character; I’m guessing she’s set for cash), this seems like the type of movie that was downgraded from A-list (legit star Heigl takes on snappy, beloved literary property!) to B-list (but it’s from the director of The Last Song and it’s coming out in January!) during production, possibly coinciding from Heigl’s drop-off from America’s sweetheart to go-to Lionsgate programmer gal. (Put out cigar in Heigl’s agent’s water glass; exit before they call security.)