The one hour and 40-minute runtime runs out fast in Lift, the Kevin Hart-led heist caper where Hart masterminds a half-a-billion-dollar gold bullion robbery from a commercial airliner flying from London to Zurich.

Lift is directed by F. Gary Grey, best remembered for the remake of The Italian Job, starring Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron — the film stills holds up nicely — and also The Negotiator, Straight Outta Compton, Fast and the Furious 8 and Men in Black: International, all serviceable and nigh-forgettable movies…like Lift.

Lift is breezy entertainment — the kind where you can often look away from time to time without missing out much on plot progression. An interesting heist happens early on in the story, followed by the blackmailed recruitment of the crew by the FBI, followed by the heist that gives the film its name. Simple, no?

Simpler yet is the cliched line-up: the good guy team consists of a hacker, a tech expert, a master of disguise, an ace pilot and a safe cracker (Kim Yoon-Ji, Viveik Karla, Vincent D’Onofrio, Úrsula Corberó, Billy Magnussen, respectively).

Lift is a film you’ve probably seen before, though perhaps with a story that doesn’t waste its entire cast and better production value

Then there is the usual villain: an old, cold-hearted mafioso (Jean Reno). Also, let’s not forget the subplot about an Interpol agent whom the passive mastermind hero loves (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and the last usual suspect in the cliched list, her corrupt boss (Sam Worthington).

Maybe I should have written “Spoiler Alert” before this tidbit. On second thought: not really.

This is a film you’ve probably seen before, though perhaps with a story that doesn’t waste its entire cast, save the lead actor, a lot more zest and better production value.

Other than the largely wasted cast, most of what one is seeing on the screen seems fake, as if done on virtual sets. The semi-realistic, nearly-out-of-focus-background trick, or the shots of seemingly expansive sets with faraway walls, are a big turn-off because one can sense their fakeness.

Even the cool loaner jet plane, with its red interior design and lighting, which the crew hires to loot the gold feels low-budget to a degree. It is, then, a good thing that Kevin Hart holds the screenplay together.

Hart, also the producer, is often seen in co-star roles, and would not have been an ideal choice as a leading man that reminds one of Wahlberg’s character from The Italian Job, yet he handles the part just fine. In fact, Hart’s character, Cyrus, has enough appeal to lead a series of films with this cast, though one assumes this wasn’t always the case.

The idea for Lift dates back 13 years, according to an interview. Ten years of festering, and a draft of the screenplay that was relatively quick to write, landed the film to its eventual producers Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Dark Phoenix), Matt Reeves (The Batman) and Netflix, and secured a spot on the coveted screenplay listing ‘The Black List’ in 2021 (The Black List is an annual publication of “great” unproduced screenplays that circle the industry and have yet to find homes at production houses).

In the logline published in The Black List, “A female master thief and her ex-boyfriend who works for the FBI team up to steal $100M worth of gold bullion being transported on a 777 passenger flight from London to Zurich.” Some shuffles and slight reworks to shift the story’s central focus to Hart’s character has turned the screenplay into a film that is now running at the top of the charts on Netflix.

The backstory tells us that there is always a global audience for “high concept” movies, no matter how cliched they are.

Rated suitable for ages 16 and over (the content is suitable for ages 10 and over), Lift is streaming at the No 1 spot right now on Netflix

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 28th, 2024

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