“Lift” is as generic and forgettable as its title, the kind of glossy, empty action picture that Netflix just keeps pumping out, whether we need it or not. It’s not as aggressively glib as “Red Notice,” for example, but rather is more in line with “The Gray Man”: Competently made and star-studded, with a couple of intriguing ideas, but hollow.
Veteran director F. Gary Gray has made better action movies in the past (“Set It Off,” “The Italian Job”) and will likely do so again. Like so many films before it, “Lift” is about an eclectic collection of con artists trying to pull off a seemingly impossible heist. That premise offers some pleasures, especially as the assignment becomes increasingly complicated. But there’s so little to the characters in the screenplay from Daniel Kunka that it’s difficult to care whether they get away with it, and the special effects look so detached from reality that it often feels like we’re playing a video game.
A group of seasoned, high-tech thieves must steal a half billion dollars’ worth of gold bars from a commercial airliner flying from London to Zurich. Their leader is Kevin Hart’s Cyrus, whom we see at the film’s start robbing a high-end art auction in Venice. This is the kind of movie that gooses its globetrotting with shiny aerial shots of European destinations: Venice, London, Brussels. They all kind of run together. Hart deviates from his fast-talking, flabbergasted persona here, which is welcome. But in positioning him as a roguish, romantic lead, “Lift” doesn’t give him anything interesting to do instead.
Cyrus has some sort of past with the Interpol agent who’s tailing his crew, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Abby Gladwell. The two share some awkward flirtation and not much chemistry. Upon orders from her boss (“Avatar” star Sam Worthington, who gets to be Australian for once), Abby reluctantly recruits Cyrus and his team to steal the gold, which wealthy bad-guy Jean Reno is transferring to a terrorist group to create disasters from which he can profit afterward. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense: The whole point is to set up a reason for these people to get together and do some elaborate mid-air stunts. Each person has a specific job—Camila (Úrsula Corberó) is the pilot, Mi-Sun (Yun Jee Kim) is the hacker, Denton (Vincent D’Onofrio) is the master of disguise, and so on—and that’s all there is to them. They sit around and make fun of each other in high-rise condos and warehouses where the bright, flat lighting is always the same and the banter strains to be enjoyably breezy. Billy Magnussen is the one exception as the safecracker, Magnus; he’s doing something delightfully goofy here that’s reminiscent of Brad Pitt in “Burn After Reading.” It’s as if he’s in a totally different movie, and one that you’ll wish you were watching instead.
But then so much of what constitutes the thrills and excitement of “Lift” are blandly zippy editing tricks: sped-up sequences, zooms and montages. After a while, we can only watch so many fistfights on airplanes. They grow repetitive and wearisome, as does the film as a whole. Then again, perhaps “Lift” is best enjoyed while you’re on a flight yourself, with nothing better to do and a need for something mindless to pass the time.
On Netflix now.