Even with Kevin Hart at the Controls, 'Lift' Never Takes Off

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Starring Kevin Hart, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Vincent D'Onofrio, Úrsula Corberó, Billy Magnussen, Viveik Kalra, Yun Jee Kim, Jacob Batalon, Jean Reno, Sam Worthington

Photo courtesy of Netflix

BY Rachel HoPublished Jan 12, 2024

Formulas aren't necessarily a bad thing. For all the nonsense of the world, there's a comfort to turning on a movie that pans out exactly how you expect (and want) it to, and the tropes and obvious twists don't take anything away from it. The heist genre in particular can be one of the most enjoyable movies to watch with little need to put a spin on old faithful — audiences love seeing the good-bad guys win and watching a montage of exactly how that happened. Two things are required for this type of film, though: dynamic chemistry and entertaining delivery, and Lift is in possession of neither.

In his latest Netflix film, Kevin Hart plays Cyrus Whitaker, the suave leader of a crew of robbers with relatively moral consciences. When the group is busted for the heist of a NFT (yes, you read that correctly), Agent Abby Gladwell (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) offers them a deal to help Interpol by stealing $500 million in gold bars off a plane from a known terrorist in exchange for immunity.

There are fist fights, airplanes, fiddley tech, giant text showing which city our band of criminals are in and a montage reveal to bring it all home, but Lift forgets to bring any of the fun. Individually the cast is respectfully fine, with everyone playing their parts as best as a hammy script will allow them. When they come together though, the group feels like a bunch of freelancers who were hired on a project via Fiverr. There's little to no joshing or banter among any of the team, even with Billy Magnusson trying with all his endearing doofus might to bring some levity. Given that F. Gary Gray has directed two fantastic heist films (Set It Off and The Italian Job) that are primarily fantastic because of the cast chemistry, Lift disappoints the genre and audiences on truly the bare minimum.

Now, for the entertaining delivery part, fault needs to be found with the film's star. Hart has been one of the most successful comedians of the last 10 years, commercially and critically. Especially in the first part of that decade-long span, Hart's hustle has been evident across the many forms of media he's dabbled in, and with that hustle came a determination to be an exceptional entertainer.

The last time I felt like Hart really cared about a movie he was starring in (save for voicing Batman's dog in DC League of Super-Pets) was Fatherhood, which coincidentally was the first film he released under the Netflix banner after signing a first-look deal with the streamer back in January 2021. Since Fatherhood, the Hart-Netflix partnership has produced the mind numbing The Man From Toronto, an aggressively unfunny Me Time and now the dry toast, Lift.

To be clear, Lift is not a comedy and Hart is never intended to be a funny protagonist, but a heist film should be diverting and as the headliner, the responsibility for bringing the charm and keeping our attention levels up is squarely on Hart's shoulders — a responsibility he fails to deliver on several times over.

Although Hart has never made it a secret that he's in this game to make money and set his family up to enjoy generational wealth, his blatant desire for commercial success has never dampened his product, with his passion clearly evident in work like Real Husbands of Hollywood, Think Like a Man and the Jumanji reboots. However, in his latest string of films, it's clear that the comedian has lost some of his spark and is now simply churning out content instead of thoughtful pieces of comedy or dramedy.

Rather than being mindless fun on a snow day, Lift will likely disappear into the Netflix void along with Hart's other streaming offerings, but here's hoping that he re-discovers that pep in his step soon, because the entertainment industry feels more lively with him operating at his full potential. (Netflix)

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