We know exactly what “Lift” means for its lead star and producer Kevin Hart. The Netflix heist film means Hart is tripling down on his action comedy genre films following “The Man from Toronto” while simultaneously deepening his ongoing production relationship with the streamer post-“True Story.” But does that make “Lift” any more than just a stepping stone in mogul Hart’s franchises? And what does “Lift” mean for its actual audience?
Much like Adam Sandler’s “Murder Mystery” movies, which seems to share the same mid-2000s flashy overexposed cinematography as “Lift,” it’s difficult to think of the “film” as anything other than a paycheck for its lead star.
Hart plays criminal boss Cyrus, who leads a crew (all heist movies need a crew) of specialized thieves who “lift” internationally renowned goods. Case in point: the team operates a series of scams to isolate Bansky-esque digital artist NB (Jacob Batalon), who is auctioning off select works for tens of millions of dollars in Venice. By kidnapping NB and botching the auction, NB’s pieces triple in price, and everyone gets a whole lot richer. This is all explained by Cyrus aboard his yacht, with NB nodding in awe and disbelief at Cyrus’ “genius.”
Oh, and the aforementioned crew is introduced by way of freeze frames and quippy titles, with Cyrus’ safecracker Magnus (Billy Magnussen) reduced to a series of thumbs ups and “oh yeah, man!”s. Ursula Corberó plays Camila (“the pilot”) and Kim Yoon-ji is “the hacker.” Vincent D’Onofrio, in a head-scratching casting choice for the Method actor, is Denton, a master of costumes and essentially the bait for most schemes.
All is well in Cyrus’ heist world until he crosses paths with former flame Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an Interpol agent. In a mouthful of exposition, we learn that Cyrus and Abby were an item for *checks watch* exactly five days (sorry, but that doesn’t designate them as exes) but neither of them knew each others’ identities during their brief romance. Cyrus quips (?) that he was undercover at the time, to which Abby quickly agrees. Their shared spark isn’t worth speaking of, and so their feelings are set aside to partner up and stop a bigger, badder international criminal (Jean Reno) from getting his hands on $500 million in gold.
Abby tasks Cyrus and his team with stealing a cache of gold mid-air from a commercial passenger plane. While half-century old franchise “Mission: Impossible” is dealing with sentient A.I., “Lift” opts to return to the genre’s most basic level with the stakes just being good, ol’ fashioned gold. Is it refreshing, or is it another example of mind-numbing condescension that is so evident in these manufactured Netflix “content” drops?
The real crime of “Lift,” however, is not that its poised as an “Ocean’s” movie lacking all of the glamour. No, it’s that director F. Gary Gray has made some incredible films in the past and “Lift” simply isn’t one of them. This is the filmmaker behind Oscar-nominated “Straight Outta Compton.” This is the director who helmed the American remake of “The Italian Job.”
This is a man who is capable of delivering not just a good heist movie, but one of the 21st century’s best heist movies. And “Lift” plays like a color-by-numbers parody of the genre as a whole, without the scrappiness of “The Italian Job” or the emotional punch of “Straight Outta Compton.” Who cares about the gold being lifted? It’s our time that’s really being stolen here.
“Lift” is now streaming on Netflix.