Principal Cast : Kevin Hart, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Worthington, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ursula Corbero, Billy Magnussen, Kim Yoon-ji, Viveik Kalra, Jean Reno, Jacob Batalon, Burn Gorman, Paul Anderson, David Proud, Jess Liaudin.
Synopsis: Lift follows a master thief and his Interpol Agent ex-girlfriend who team up to steal $500 million in gold bullion being transported on an A380 passenger flight.
As a lightweight imitation of The Italian Job, F Gary Gray’s Lift parlays its exuberance and solid ensemble cast against the predictably middle-tier Netflix budget and delivers an entirely delightful, if incredibly dumb, heist actioner that pits comedian Kevin Hart (in a somewhat straighter role than is typical for him) against perennial European bad-guy Jean Reno. With flashes of wit, sublime kinetic direction from Gray behind the camera, as well as some solid global locations and a mix of James Bond, Fast & Furious and the aforementioned Italian Job, there’s little about Lift that isn’t formulaic and derivative, but in getting the job done with enough energy and fun as this does it’s remarkable just how brain-off enjoyable it all is.
Hart plays Cyrus, the charismatic leader of a gang of art thieves committing fraud and heists around the world. After a job in Italy sees then nabbed by Interpol, Agent Gladwell (Gugu Mbatha-raw) is forced to offer them a deal – steal half a billion in gold bars from notorious terrorist mastermind Jorgenson (Jean Reno) to prevent global catastrophe, without him knowing it. Together with Denton (Vincent D’Onofrio), Camila (Ursula Corbero), Magnus (Billy Magnussen), Mi-Sun (Kim Yoon-ji) and Luke (Viveik Kaira), and hounded by Interpol boss Agent Huxley (Sam Worthington), Cyrus must use all his wits and ingenuity to plan and execute the heist of the century, thousands of feet in the sky.
Since he burst onto the mainstream scene with the memorable Samuel L Jackson thriller The Negotiator, director F Gary Gray has been a name I’ve always sought out. Although he has had singular success with directorial stints ever since – even remaking The Italian Job back in 2003 – including 2009’s Law Abiding Citizen and the one-two punch of Straight Outta Compton and The Fate Of The Furious, Gray’s track record has been spotty when it comes to propulsive action and box-office; note, his work on Men In Black: International could roundly be described as terrible, while A Man Apart and Be Cool were… okay. Saddling up for Lift sees Gray revisit the heist genre, and to his credit (and that of screenwriter Daniel Kunka) the film is a bewildering mix of action, adventure, and watching Kevin Hart trying desperately not to slide into the comedic comfortableness afforded his regular team-ups with Dwayne Johnson.
This is a Netflix film skewed through early 2000’s Luc Besson Transporter-era trash and mixed with Hart’s glint-in-the-eye screen chemistry – whenever he’s not on screen in Lift the film staggers badly, but thankfully those moments are few and far between so things buzz along quite nicely. The heisting given to Hart and his team is snazzy and well put-together, if completely ridiculous (the opening sequence has them stealing an actual NFT, if you can believe it) but it sets up the film’s nonsensical tone and one-dimensional rag-tag team of characters, all of whom are afforded exactly zero development or backstory but are somehow still enjoyable to watch. The plot is preposterous and contrived beyond belief, the dialogue expertly weaves exposition with plot points to continue the propulsive pace, and Gray’s hyperbolic direction and the film’s jaw-dropping stunts (most of which I suspect are firmly mid-budget VFX) reaches a crescendo with one of the least surprising “you never saw it coming” twist reveals towards the end – because what heist film doesn’t double-cross the audience watching with some half-baked machinations off-screen that we’re not privy to? – but it’s all so much delirious fun watching Hart, Reno, D’Onofrio and the likes of Billy Magnussen and Burn Gorman playing up so many tropes its almost an affront.
I had a blast watching Lift. It’s hard not to when you have a full-throated ensemble working their magic like this, chewing scenery and dialogue with every passing moment, enabled by solid production values and a crazy, lunatic screenplay that demands more suspension of disbelief than any single film has any right to ask of a viewer. Yes, its completely stupid, and not a single second is believable or offers any insight into the human condition, but it’s pure popcorn fun, a forgettable entry into the heist subgenre that entertains without etching itself into your memory. Kevin Hart proves he’s capable of being a straight leading man, although it’s going to take more than Lift to convince me we’re not better off with him cracking gags and making us laugh, and F Gary Gray proves his journeyman career as a director is going to continue into the future – Lift is serviceable rubbish that will refuse to linger long in the memory, but for what it is and why it exists it’s actually pretty good.