Lift Review | A Clean Getaway

by Andrew Parker

It’s hard to write about a film like Lift – a lighthearted action-heist movie – because everything that could be said about this movie has already been said about dozens of like minded genre imitators that have come before it. Sometimes that’s a bad thing if the movie isn’t fun or takes itself too seriously, but Lift falls on the right side of being just better than mediocre, and it certainly isn’t a lazy movie. It’s relatively uninspired, and there’s nothing in here that hasn’t been done before and better elsewhere, but it also isn’t doing anything wrong, and it carries with it an ease and assurance that all it wants to do is entertain for about 95 minutes before the credits hit. It might be faint praise, but Lift is a faint success.

Lift comes from the same class of caper flick as Steven Soderbergh’s Danny Ocean romps, or the much better than expected 2003 remake of The Italian Job, which makes a lot of sense because this movie comes from action movie and music video veteran F. Gary Gray, who directed the latter. It’s one of those movies where a diverse cast of character actors is led by a charismatic megastar on a seemingly impossible quest to steal something of great value. Here, that megastar is Kevin Hart, and the item in question is a bunch of gold bullion.

I could leave it at that because it’s all you need to know about the set up provided by screenwriter Daniel Kunka (12 Rounds). No matter how complicated the film tries to sound, it’s just another heist movie, not really doing anything different within the genre. If originality is the primary thing you look for in a film, Lift won’t be to your taste, but if you’re willing to go along with something that’s unwaveringly familiar out of the gate, it’s a passably pleasant time. It’s hard for me to get mad about a movie when it lays out its entire plot and character dynamics early on, and my primary response is to think, “okay, so far, so good,” and then find myself pleasantly surprised that the film didn’t take a lot of wrong turns and missteps. Mediocre and forgettable? Yes. Regrettable? Hardly.

Hart stars as Cyrus, a suave, well off international art thief, who works with a tight knit crew of like minded crooks. Camila (Úrsula Corberó) is the unflappable, tough talking getaway woman. Magnus (Billy Magnussen) is the hyperactive safe cracker. Denton (Vincent D’Onofrio) is the quirky, but deep thinking and analytical master of disguise. Luke (Viveik Kalra) is the stressed out gadget designer. Mi-Sun (Yun Jee Kim) is the know-it-all hacker. They have a good thing going, but an Interpol Agent in the art crime division has closed in on them. That agent just so happens to be Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who once had a romantic fling with Cyrus. Now, under the orders of her boss (Sam Worthington), Abby is forced to ask Cyrus and his crew for help in stopping a market hacking madman (Jean Reno) from unleashing global terror and destruction. You see, the baddie is willing to pay a group of hackers to take down power infrastructures around the globe, causing suspended services, floods, and any number of potentially avoidable and deadly disasters, all so the price of his stocks will go even higher. The hackers demand to be paid in gold, which is going to be flown from London to Zurich. In exchange for full immunity and pardons, Cyrus and his team have to find a way to pinch the gold without anyone noticing and while the commercial flight is still in the air.

It sounds like there’s a lot of ins and outs and a few too many characters here, but none of that really matters. Lift is just a straight forward “steal the thing without anyone noticing” action flick without any bells and whistles. The script is useable. The performances are fun. Most of the action in the first half is really well done, but the latter stages boast some unconvincing CGI embellishments that are hard to completely overlook. Everything plays out in expected, but engaging fashion. We meet the team. The relationships are established. The team learns what they’re up against. They train. They problem solve. They start the mission. They problem solve some more. Not everything goes to plan… I don’t even know why I need to outline it at this point.

As a piece of entertainment, Lift is quite charming, even if they do say the title a few too many times like it’s suddenly going to catch on as a synonym for “heist.” It’s fun to watch Hart play the cool, suave, and collected leading man for a change instead of being the goofy, comedic everyman, and he’s clearly having a ball breaking out of his usual mold. The same can be said for Raw, who fits nicely into this cast and brings her typically strong work, and D’Onofrio, who must be enjoying the chance to not play someone so rigorously intense this time out. Everyone gets a moment to shine, and they all play well together, which is great since the only way Lift will ever get off the proverbial runway is through an all out charm offensive. The dynamics of getting all of the all star cast members in the same place at the same time is difficult (and sometimes clunky when it comes to trying to explain where everyone is at a given moment), but they put their best feet forward and put on a show.

While watching Lift, I felt a perhaps inevitable need to compare this to another Netflix heist film from recent memory, Red Notice, starring Hart’s best frenemy Dwyane Johnson. Red Notice was a thoroughly disappointing, unenjoyable, hugely budgeted caper movie with a massive cast, and despite sharing a lot of common DNA, Lift manages to notch a solid W over his taller, more famous running buddy. And the key difference other than overall good wills and consistent storytelling comes from having Gray behind the camera. After The Italian Job, Set It Off, and directing a Fast and Furious movie, Gray has become a go-to filmmaker for this sort of thing. He just understands the dynamic and mechanics of a heist movie perfectly. Even when the material is as mid as Lift, he still knows how to make it into a successfully enjoyable action flick.

And sometimes that’s all that matters. It’s well made. It’s well cast. It’s 95 minutes and some change. That’s Lift in a nutshell.

Lift streams on Netflix starting Friday, January 12, 2024.

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