Empire State (2013)

(On Cable TV, May 2014) Here’s a philosophical question: If you’re bored enough by a film that you slide off in a pleasant slumber by the time the third act rolls, and rouse just before the end credit, and yet feel no need to go back to check what you’ve missed, can you be said to have watched the entire film? What about when your attention is distracted by a second screen? What about when you just go to the bathroom, or grab a bite from the kitchen without pausing? What about when you blink and miss a few frames of the film? At what point does “not watching” become relevant, and when does it turn into a review statement of its own? All of this to say that while I had reasonably high hopes for Empire State, the film quickly degenerated in an implausible snooze-fest. The opening moments of the film set up an intriguing early-eighties slice of life in New York’s Greek community. Then it’s off to a heist caper, but not just any heist caper: one of the least plausible heist capers imaginable, filled with coincidences, laziness and hard-to-accept arbitrariness. Events “just happen” and it’s hard for fiction to let its main character plan such a heist while warning signs about him all abound. After an hour, the verdict is clear: Empire State is dull, tired and with little grace in the way it uses either its historical setting or its actors. Liam Hemsworth isn’t developing as a compelling lead actor and this film does nothing to enhance his distinctiveness as anything more than “Chris Hemsworth’s brother.” Michael Angarano’s more distinctive, but his slimeball character is more annoying than striking. Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by the box-cover: While Dwayne Johnson is in the film, he’s only in there for a few minutes, and seems to belong in an entirely different film every time he’s on-screen. Little wonder that even with a moderately-high budget, Empire State went direct-to-video ($11 million isn’t much by blockbuster standards, but it’s higher than most film of this kind). There’s little here that make the film special in any fashion.

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