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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Empire State

No. Not that one.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Two friends decide to rob the armoured car depository where the one works as a security guard but with a hardened cop on the one side and some seriously shady criminals on the other, things quickly start to go wrong.

What we thought

Despite its title, Empire State is neither about one of the tallest buildings in the world, nor is it about the fictional Marvel Comics university and that's unfortunate because what the film is really about is far less interesting than a straight documentary on either of those things could ever hope to be. Empire State is the name of the place that our two anti-heroes decide to rob in the, what, third film released this year about a bunch of dopes finding out that there's no such thing as a simple crime?

Admittedly, it's no where near as awful as The Counsellor but it's also nowhere near as much fun (in a grotty, dirty, unbalanced kind of way) as Pain and Gain and considering how often this particular kind of crime story has been tackled in every storytelling medium possible, losing out to a film made by Michael Freakin' Bay just isn't good enough. I've said this alarmingly often over the past year but, once again, the problem with the film isn't that it's terrible, as much as it's really, really mediocre – and considering how well established the genre to which it belongs undoubtedly is, being mediocre is almost worse than being terrible.

But then, considering how director Dito Montiel (Fighting, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints) has basically made a career out of gritty, testosterone driven dramas, it's not exactly surprising that his latest feels like just another day at the office. It certainly doesn't help that in the lead he cast Liam Hemsworth who has neither the right kind of screen presence nor has he shown, to date, the acting chops needed for this kind of film and while the Rock does his Rock thing as only he can, this crime film's biggest crime is how it wastes a talented actress as good as Emma Roberts on a pitiful, helpless girlfriend role.

Mind you, they could have gotten Daniel Day Lewis and Emma Thompson to star in the film and it still wouldn't be any less underwhelming: the casting is really the least of its problems. Crime films usually work best when they are very stylish and/ or pack a serious emotional punch but Empire State does neither. The film is clearly going for a more grounded approach so it's forgiveable that visually it's kind of dreary, but with that visual aesthetic must surely come some sort of emotional punch – or, indeed, any sort of punch at all.

There really is no getting past it, Empire State is simply a ceaselessly boring film. It has a dull, witless script, sluggish pacing and it wraps its story up far too neatly for its own good because even if that's how the real events played out, some poetic license could have been used to either spice things up or at least bring the film more into line with the crime noir genre from which it is drawing.

That's right, I forgot to mention it, but Empire State is actually based on a true story about the most financially successful cash heist in US history but considering how blandly it plays out, I wouldn't be surprised if the actual news reports weren't more exciting. I hate to keep complimenting one of my absolute least favourite directors ever but contrast the way Empire State makes uncreative use of its real-life story to the way that Bay paints the real events in Pain and Gain in such a way that they seem more fantastical than any fiction could ever hope to be. Pain and Gain may have received a vitrolic reception from some critics but even its most fervent haters have to admit that at least it stands out, even in its awfulness, whereas I doubt anyone will even remember Empire State a year from now.

Let's just say it's not exactly surprising that the movie went straight to DVD in the States.

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