“Netflix and chill” is a term that has never gone out of fad because the streaming giant has constantly produced films (and shows) that people can play in the background and then partake in carnal or platonic activities. They have given us some amazing films over the years, some of which have gone on to win multiple awards, like Roma, The Irishman, Marriage Story, Mank, Da 5 Bloods, GDT’s Pinocchio, and Nimona. However, the number of quality films pales in comparison to the background films. I think the phenomenon started with The Ridiculous 6, The Do-Over, and then simply exploded with the Kissing Booth movies, all those Christmas-themed movies, the Tall Girl movies, the 365 Days movies, the Princess Switch movies, the Murder Mystery movies, and The Gray Man. And while Kevin Hart dipped into the good stuff with True Story, he has contributed to the bad stuff with a trifecta of films, which include The Man from Toronto, Me Time, and the topic of today’s discussion, Lift.
F. Gary Gray’s Lift, which was written by Daniel Kunka, is centered around a team of thieves made up of Cyrus, Denton, Camila, Magnus, Mi-Sun, and Luke. Cyrus is the boss, Camila is the pilot, Mi-Sun is the hacker, Magnus cracks safes, Denton is the master of disguise, and Luke is the engineer (technically, you have to be some kind of engineer to hack or crack safes, and it feels like they ran out of designations). We are introduced to them via a two-part heist where they steal an NFT in Venice and a painting by Vincent Van Gogh in London. Going by Agent Abby’s frustration after not being able to catch Cyrus and his team, it not only becomes apparent that they’ve been doing this for a long time but also that there’s some history between Abby and Cyrus. However, when a high-profile terrorist named Jorgensen gains notoriety, Abby’s boss, Huxley, tells her to join hands with Cyrus and his team to put a stop to Jorgensen’s villainous antics. Given how Jorgensen is working with a hacker group called Leviathan, who only likes to take their payment in gold, Cyrus and his team are tasked with intercepting its transfer from London to Zurich. Whether or not they’ll be successful is what forms the crux of this heist film.
Nowadays, it’s very easy to label the bad writing of a film as “written by A.I.,” thereby shifting the blame from the writer who has chosen to advertise himself as the author of the film’s script to a faceless, shapeless entity, and I think that’s wrong. With that said, Daniel Kunka, whose last writing feature film gig was 2009’s 12 Rounds, seems to have consumed a bunch of heist films that have been released over the past couple of decades, read a few buzzwords (like NFT and hackers), and regurgitated them in the most ungraceful fashion imaginable. Using water for eco-terrorism was an integral part of Quantum of Solace. Stealing gold bars was the central focus of The Italian Job (a movie that was remade by F. Gary Gray). The concept of using a bunch of anti-heroes to do a job for a law enforcement agency has been seen in the Fast and Furious movies (F. Gary Gray has been a part of this franchise), Suicide Squad, Army of the Dead, and many more. And then there’s the dialogue. I think adjectives like robotic, cliche, predictable, bland, or hollow feel like an understatement. It actually seems like Kunka has downloaded a bunch of scripts from the past 10 years, especially all the quippy ones from the MCU, observed how young people talk on social media, and then copied and pasted all of it into the PDF file of his screenplay. Well, if he is getting paid for this by Netflix, Kevin Hart, Matt Reeves, and Simon Kinberg, who am I to complain, right? Good for David.
You can say the same about F. Gary Gray, too. If he is getting paid top money for collaborating with the likes of Bernhard Jasper (the cinematographer), Willam Yeh (the editor), Dominic Watkins (the production designer), and teams of VFX artists, stunt teams, and sound designers to craft the most forgettable scenes in film history, what is so wrong about it? I mean, you can say the real heist here is that Gray is using his influence, which he has garnered over the years by making some amazing movies, to dupe Netflix into giving him a lot of cash, and in return, he’s giving the most low-effort product while pocketing the rest for himself and his team. That said, I do have a problem with the way he is tarnishing his name. Gray is the man behind Friday, which is one of the most iconic films of all time. Set It Off and The Negotiator are pretty great. Many may say that The Italian Job is not as good as the original, but I’ll say that it is damn entertaining. I have watched Law Abiding Citizen too many times to comment on its quality in an unbiased fashion. And, with regards to its quality, the box-office records and award-season sweep of Straight Outta Compton are self-explanatory. However, with The Fate of the Furious, MiB: International, and Lift, it seems like he only wants to be remembered for his older projects. The lack of passion, vision, and originality is troubling, and I sincerely hope that he finds the spark to make movies that matter.
The performances are the nails in the coffin that Lift resides in. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is one of the most talented actresses in the business. She is the best thing about every project that she is involved in. And, if you are metaphorically squinting, you can say that she is the best thing about this Netflix film, too, but that’ll be a backhanded compliment rather than one that she needs or deserves. Based on the success of the Avatar movies, Sam Worthington is one of the most bankable actors, and yet, he barely gets to do anything here. Everyone knows Úrsula Corberó from Money Heist, and her charisma and charm are completely underutilized in this film. Vincent D’Onofrio is a thespian, and I’m not sure what he is doing as Denton. Billy Magnussen oozes charisma in every project he is in, and here, he is treated so poorly that it’s painful to watch. Kim Yoon-ji is one of the most talented K-pop stars, and none of her glamor and appeal are used in any shape or form. I don’t think anyone will remember that Viveik Kalra is in the movie, and that’s not Kalra’s fault. Jean Reno was in the first Mission: Impossible film (something that every heist movie draws from, including Lift), and his role was so impactful despite the screen time. As Jorgensen, his impact in the film is negligible. Jacob Batalon is in this movie. Burn Gorman is there, too. Both of their talents are wasted. Believe it or not, Paul Anderson from Peaky Blinders is there in the movie, and he is barely noticeable. David Proud is fun, and I am being kind here. And then there’s Kevin Hart.
I actually don’t know what to say about Kevin Hart. He is a very influential figure in the entertainment industry. He has been on the big screen. He has enthralled stadiums full of people. And he has shown his dramatic chops in True Story. So, why is he reducing himself to lackluster stuff like a Netflix film that no one will remember by the end of the month it’s released? Why isn’t he using his full potential? While addressing Katt Williams’ allegations about how he is acting like an “industry plant,” Hart proudly proclaimed that he has done so much to support so many artists, thereby proving that he thinks very highly about himself. But why am I not seeing that in his choice of films? I don’t know. During the concluding moments of Lift, Hart’s character critiques those who say that NFTs are a “passing fad” and that an artwork’s quality depends on the artist. Well, firstly, at the time of writing this article, Twitter has decided to remove NFT profile pictures, and that makes the line sound dated as hell. Secondly, I think he should apply that philosophy to himself and realize that it’s unnecessary to put out low-effort art just because that’s what Netflix needs, when he can use the clout that he has, as well as the reach that comes with the streaming platform, to make something substantial.