Lift review | Kevin Hart turns on the charm in a weightless Netflix thriller

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Netflix has made another expensive action-comedy-thriller. This one’s Lift, starring Kevin Hart and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Here’s our review:

Can a film live on charm alone? Netflix considers the possibility in Lift, a $100m heist thriller so flimsy that its plot makes the Fast & Furious movies look like Tenet.

The comparisons to the Fast franchise run more than skin deep; director F Gary Gray previously directed 2017’s The Fate Of The Furious – you know, the one with the submarine – and, before that, led another starry heist in the 2003 remake of The Italian Job.

Lift is essentially a star vehicle for Kevin Hart, who brings his laid-back charisma to Cyrus, the ring leader of a bunch of professional art thieves. At the behest of Interpol agent Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Cyrus and his crew are given the task of stealing half a billion dollars’ worth of gold bullion – and for a variety of reasons not memorable enough to recount here, the gold has to be stolen while it’s in still aboard a commercial airliner some 40,000 feet in the air.

Before all of that, Gray and screenwriter Daniel Kunka (12 Rounds) introduce us to the rest of the supporting cast in a tension-free opening heist set in Venice. Among the misfits in Cyrus’ team you’ll find Billy Magnussen as a safecracker, Kim Yoon-ji as a hacker, Ursula Corbero as an ace pilot, and Vincent D’Onofrio as a master of disguise. The latter’s a particularly odd bit of casting because, as one of the most recognisable names on the film’s credits, he’s also given the least to do – even his questionable ability to adopt different guises barely figures in the plot’s big heist.

Back in Venice, Cyrus is introduced in an upscale art auction in which he manages to steal an NFT worth millions of dollars – a plot point that immediately dates the film, given that non-fungible tokens and monkey JPGs peaked in early 2022 only to crater a few months afterwards. At any rate, the subsequent speed boat chase through Venice is arguably Lift’s most visually arresting action sequence – not least because it looks as though Gray and his production team managed to actually get permission to barrel around a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Thereafter, Lift descends into the same kind of green-screen, CGI-encrusted blandness often seen in earlier Netflix thrillers. Much has been written about how and why the streaming giant manages to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on films that look so cheap – see also Red Notice, The Gray Man, The Old Guard and 6 Underground to name a few. There’s a working theory that it’s because Netflix insists that its filmmakers shoot with specific 4K digital cameras.

Whatever the reason, Lift’s theoretically enticing premise – nick a big, heavy pile of gold from a moving plane – soon falls as flat as the film’s blatantly CG backgrounds. It’s worth comparing Lift to 1993’s Cliffhanger, in which a bunch of thieves also stole valuables from a plane mid-flight. That sequence used, for the most part, real planes and real stunt people, and whatever you think about the rest of the film, it’s an intense scene that carries weight and an air of danger. In Lift, the cast spend much of their time punching and kicking each other in sparse film sets, or pretending to fly blatantly computer-generated aeroplanes.

The counter-argument could be that Lift is just a bit of fun. It doesn’t matter that it’s a thriller with few thrills, or that Jean Reno barely figures as the film’s major villain, or that Sam Worthington has been lumbered with an indescribable haircut straight out of a Farrelly Brothers comedy.

What matters is charm – and in fairness, Hart brings lots of it, as does Mbatha-Raw, who’s really much too good for this sort of nonsense but makes light work of her role as Cyrus’ pursuer-turned-love interest. Which is just as well, because unlike, say, Oceans 11 or Gray’s The Italian Job, the rest of the ensemble barely get a look-in. Poor D’Onofrio.

Ultimately, Lift is akin to NFTs at their peak: too expensive, of questionable cultural value, and likely to be forgotten in a few months.

Lift is available to stream now on Netflix.

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