With its talented cast, experienced director, and playful heist premise, Lift seems to offer all the right ingredients for an enjoyable caper flick. But this new Netflix action-comedy fails to bring any of those promising elements together into a satisfying whole. Director F. Gary Gray demonstrated his capacity for crafting slick, crowd-pleasing heist films like The Italian Job. Leading man Kevin Hart has made a successful career out of his sharp comic timing and abundant charisma.
And the concept of high-flying thieves attempting to pull off an elaborate gold theft mid-flight brims with potential for thrill-ride entertainment. Disappointingly, though, Lift never takes off, stranding its strong assets in a hollow story full of uninspired clichés. The script lacks the creativity or audacity to make the eccentric lineup of crooks feel like an actual team we want to root for. The stakes stay stubbornly low as each crisis they face proves temporary.
And Hart’s turn as ringleader Cyrus fails to generate much appeal or chemistry opposite the lovely but underutilized Gugu Mbatha-Raw. For all its glossy action spectacle, Lift lacks enough heart or personality to satisfy. It coasts on fumes of borrowed star power and goodwill from its superior genre predecessors. Here was a chance to send the glamorous heist film soaring to new heights; instead, the end result feels like just another disappointing crash landing in the Netflix algorithm.
A Slick Caper That Never Takes Off
Lift centers around the exploits of Cyrus Whitaker (Kevin Hart), an audacious art thief whose loyalty lies more with beautiful objects than law and order. We’re introduced to Cyrus and his crew as they pull off an impossible heist, stealing a highly valued NFT from a tightly guarded auction. But the celebration is short-lived before Interpol agent Abby Gladwell (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tracked them down.
As it turns out, Abby needs Cyrus for a covert operation more than she needs him behind bars. She brings word that ruthless financier Lars Jorgensen (Jean Reno) plans to transfer $500 million in gold to dangerous hackers, who will use it to fund catastrophic terrorist attacks. With lives on the line, Abby has no choice but to recruit Cyrus and leverage his thieving skills for good.
Their mission – intercept the payload mid-flight as it’s being transported to Zurich aboard a commercial airliner. Cyrus eagerly gathers his trusted associates, including pilot Camila (Úrsula Corberó), disguise expert Denton (Vincent D’Onofrio), and spirited safecracker Magnus (Billy Magnussen). If they have any hope of breaching the plane’s vaults 40,000 feet in the air, they’ll need split-second precision and every ounce of cunning in their arsenal.
Of course, no high-flying heist ever goes smoothly. As problems stack up against the deadline, bonds are tested between the crooks, as well as the simmering chemistry between Cyrus and Abby. Lift aims for the sky with all the workings of a slick, stylish thriller. But does this band of thieves have what it takes to stick the landing? Or will their best-laid plans come crashing down in fiery disappointment?
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Stellar Cast Stuck in Neutral
Considering its impressive lineup of talent both behind and in front of the camera, Lift frustrates by failing to take full advantage and give them richer roles and relationships to sink their teeth into. Most disappointing is Kevin Hart in the lead role of savvy thief Cyrus Whitaker. The chance to see Hart stretch in a more dramatic, debonair part seems appealing on paper. But bereft of his signature manic energy, Hart lacks the gravitas or appeal as a Danny Ocean-type ringleader, which the slick role demands.
As Cyrus’ former lover, Interpol agent Abby Gladwell, Gugu Mbatha-Raw remains a standout presence. She brings integrity and competence to the only truly dimensional character. But Mbatha-Raw and Hart share little spark or chemistry, making their romantic backstory feel flat.
While the supporting thieves boast veteran names like Vincent D’Onofrio and Úrsula Corberó, they receive thin character development beyond their specialties. It falls to Billy Magnussen to supply most of the film’s liveliness as a rambunctious safecracker who seems airlifted in from a zanier caper flick. Meanwhile, roles feel almost wasted on D’Onofrio as a disguise expert given little disguise work and Jean Reno as a villain given little to do.
We’ve seen this caliber of performers click together as engaging ensembles before in the heist genre. So it remains a head-scratcher why Lift sidelines them in thinly written archetypes and disjointed relationships. Sparks of promise flare up when Mbatha-Raw springs into action or Magnussen mugs for laughs. But mostly, the talents never mesh into a chemistry that compelled us to care whether their lofty heist succeeds or fails. More criminal than any on-screen robbery is such a misuse of star potential.
A Promising Helmer Falters
In retrospect, F. Gary Gray seemed like a flawless choice to call the shots on a high-flying heist caper. The skilled craftsman behind muscular action fare like Set It Off and The Italian Job showed he could deliver both streetwise grit and playful thrills with style and fluidity. His last blockbuster, The Fate and the Furious, proved he could handle state-of-the-art set pieces while keeping audiences rapt. Surely Lift would cut loose and soar under Gray’s seasoned command.
And there are, in fact, brief glimpses of the film we should have gotten. When the adrenaline-fueled plane heist kicks in, Gray and editor Dirk Westervelt click together exciting escapes and close calls with brisk pacing. The elaborate plan’s moving parts boast clever ideas, especially the high-tech safe-cracking tools utilized mid-flight. Any claustrophobic action set on an airliner 40,000 feet above ground should’ve had us chewing our nails with tension.
So why does so much of Lift ring hollow rather than cathartic? The fault appears less with Gray’s direction than with decisions around editing and effects made in post-production. In misguided attempts to up the polish and pace, scenes get doused in slick gloss that dulls their vibrancy. Rapid-fire editing deprives moments of any lasting impact. And overtly glossy CGI gives even fiery explosions an oddly weightless, cartoonish look.
In past hits, Gray let his high concepts dazzle organically thanks to grittier aesthetics and dynamic shot selection. Here his hand seems tied behind too much digital sheen turned up to 11, robbing Lift of any distinctive style or sensibility a genre piece needs. The automated Netflix algorithm seems the real invisible director guiding choices to hit minute-by-minute metrics over storytelling brio and charm. What might have been a thrill ride with some air turbulence instead plays much too smoothly.
A Lead Balloon Where Laughs Should Soar
Considering its concept revolves around hijacking a commercial airliner to steal hundreds of millions in gold bars, Lift always promised to fly highest if powered by humor and audacious fun. But multiple poor decisions sour the atmosphere instead, failing to generate either breezy thrills or consistent laughs.
Chief among those puzzling choices – casting comedy superstar Kevin Hart then muzzling his talents in a rare straight role. Depriving Hart of his motor-mouthed charisma defies reason when he could have improvised priceless reactions to each midair disaster. The film wants us to buy Hart as a cooler-than-ice ringleader like Clooney in the Ocean’s films. But his swagger feels forced without punchy humor to ground it.
The supporting cast offer mixed returns trying to fill the void. As a loose cannon safecracker, Billy Magnussen goes enjoyably big with goofy gusto. But the other thieves botch their comic opportunities. And attempts to build conventional romantic chemistry between Hart and Mbatha-Raw lead nowhere.
Lift’s high concept constantly begs for a dash of self-aware winking at the outlandishness unfolding. Had Gray embraced the silliness and gone for broke on mirth, the stellar plane setting alone should have effortlessly generated laughs. Instead, the film stays stubbornly stiff and self-serious. A few sporadic punchlines briefly work, but mostly the lame gags just lie there, giving off all the fizz of a freshly opened can of flat soda. It’s too slick by half when what a featherlight romp like this needs is some real turbulence.
Squandered Potential Makes This a Joyless Ride
It’s never a good sign when a film’s assets read better on paper than they play out on screen. But Lift stands out as an exceptional case of across-the-board wasted potential. Despite amassing an ample budget, a flashy premise, and A-list talent in front of and behind the camera, the final product still exposes a lacking script that sucks the thrill from even premium ingredients.
The problems start with a derivative plot following thoroughly predictable beats. Lift cribs set pieces and story points from superior heist films without injecting any novelty or surprises. Outcomes feel preordained as our crack team sidesteps crisis after crisis that posed no real credible threat. Recycled clichés pile up scene after scene, from the hero forced back in for “one last job” to forced romantic heat between the leads.
Making matters worse, Lift sidelines its own stars rather than tailoring snug roles that play to their strengths. Director F. Gary Gray earned his seat after hits like The Italian Job proved his capacity for populist crowdpleasers. Hart landed leading man status on account of his infectious humor and underdog pluck. Together, their gifts should have elevated even lightweight fare into a breezy joyride. Instead, Gray’s characteristic slick style feels anonymous. And Hart awkwardly downshifts into a subdued dramedic register that drains his charm.
For all its photogenic gloss and breakneck pacing, Lift leaves a joyless aftertaste. There’s no substance to make the stakes feel real or characters click together into a rooting interest. It’s the hollow illusion of an exciting ride rather than delivering on that promise. And for a movie about cunning thieves who always get away with it, it’s the filmmakers here who make off with the loot of our time and money in exchange for empty spectacle as shiny as fool’s gold.
Bumpy Ride With No Satisfying Payoff
There’s an expectation that comes with certain types of movies – if you see the phrase “heist film,” you expect the satisfaction of watching a clever plan rife with hitches come together. The joy is in the reveal – both the reveal of the plan itself, and the reveal that the plan worked, against all odds.
Lift promises this type of enjoyably bumpy ride, but it never truly delivers. Despite a game cast, slick direction, and a seemingly can’t-miss high concept premise, the film’s few clever moments are drowned out by mediocre writing. We get all build up and no satisfying climax.
The flat characters don’t help either. Talented performers like Kevin Hart, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Vincent D’Onofrio aren’t given nearly enough to work with. Lift strangely mutes Hart’s inherent magnetism instead of capitalizing on his charm. Mbatha-Raw brings a steady, competent presence but has regrettably little spark with Hart. The band of thieves here should be a ragtag bunch of misfits that bumble their way into pulling off the impossible. Instead, they feel like cardboard cutouts merely filling plot functions.
While likely inoffensive enough for casual viewing, Lift is a disappointment for fans of the heist genre hoping to see it cleverly subverted rather than thinly imitated. It has the blueprint of a high-flying caper tailor-made for buoyant entertainment. Yet at nearly every turn, the dull writing causes it to stall out. For all its wannabe slick style, star shine, and CGI spectacle, Lift can’t stick the landing.
With its pedestrian script, misused talent and lack of tension or laughs, Lift never ascends to anywhere near the giddy entertainment heights its gonzo premise hints at. Considering the film’s pedigree and ample resources, it’s a staggering failure of imagination that keeps this starry heist flatlining throughout. For all its glossy production values, without the substance of thoughtful writing or performances with room to soar, Lift just sputters and plummets. This bumpy ride provides little upside beyond serving as sleepy travel entertainment for the most undemanding of viewers.
- Slick and stylish direction from F. Gary Gray
- Strong cast including Kevin Hart, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Vincent D'Onofrio
- Creative premise of mid-air heist offers potential
- Few genuinely thrilling action set pieces
- Misuse of cast's talents and charisma
- Lackluster script full of clichés and lacking substance
- Uneven tone with poor attempts at humor
- Fails to establish stakes or compelling characters
- Lacks tension or element of surprise