‘Lift’ Review — Kevin Hart’s Netflix Comedy Never Takes Off

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Kevin Hart plays the only serious character in Netflix’s Lift, leaving the rest of the cast to supply the comedic relief.
  • The cast members tasked with supplying the laughs struggle to compensate for the script’s weak material.
  • Lift fails to establish stakes or develop its characters, falling short as both a comedy and an action film.


Kevin Hart is funny. Even if you don’t particularly like him, you have to admit that, at the very least, he has sharp comedic timing – which is, of course, essential for anyone telling jokes. So, why would the new Netflix action-comedy movie Lift make him the only “serious” character and delegate the comic relief role to everyone but him? On the off chance that this was a great — or an at least unexpected — idea, it would need a tremendous amount of work to make sense. This is far from the case here.

Lift centers around Cyrus (Hart), a criminal mastermind who gathers the very best criminals in the world to pull some pretty impressive heists. But the latest one will put all previous ones to shame as Cyrus teams up with his former girlfriend and federal agent Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to steal $500 million in gold bars being transported on a plane from London to Zurich.

Lift

An international heist crew, led by Cyrus Whitaker (Kevin Hart), race to lift $500 million in gold from a passenger plane at 40,000 feet. – Netflix

Release Date
January 12, 2024

Cast
Kevin Hart , Gugu Mbatha-Raw , Vincent D’Onofrio , Úrsula Corberó , Billy Magnussen , Jacob Batalon , Jean Reno , Sam Worthington , Paul Anderson , Viveik Kalra , Burn Gorman

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
103 minutes

Writers
Daniel Kunka

Distributor(s)
Netflix

Cinema has long played with the idea of making non-funny characters contribute to the comedy by the juxtaposition of this individual with everyone else or with unconventional situations around them. Tommy Lee Jones, for example, is not funny in Men in Black, but the movie is funny (and wildly entertaining) precisely because his character “K” remains mostly unfazed by the situations and creatures he’s forced to deal with. In Lift, this contrast doesn’t exist. Cyrus is not funny, but there’s also no reason why he should be the serious type.


‘Lift’ Doesn’t Want to Use Kevin Hart’s Skills… But Why?

Lift is a laid-back movie, and could go hard on the comedy, but instead, it has Hart playing slightly against type just for the sake of doing it. And it takes its toll as the remaining cast members are tasked with keeping the comedic timing going. More often than not, they’re not up to the challenge. That’s not to say that Mbatha-Raw, Úrsula Corberó (Money Heist), Billy Magnussen (The Many Saints of Newark), Yun Jee Kim (Mine), Vincent D’Onofrio (Echo), and Viveik Kalra (Voyagers) can’t be funny, but they lack the skills to keep it 100 when the material they are working with is not the best – and Lift’s certainly isn’t.

Curiously enough, Hart is still fun to watch even as he isn’t leaning into the jokes, which is yet another example of how comedians can be good in pretty much any role. Hart is perfectly capable of selling that this character is different from the various others that he’s played, but… it didn’t need to be.

Aside from the approach to Hart’s character, the worst mistake that Lift makes is that it completely fails to set up stakes for whichever scenario plays out. Whenever a conflict comes up that could present some form of challenge to the story, it is completely resolved within a couple of minutes or less, which never makes us worry that anything could ever go wrong for any of the characters involved. But this doesn’t happen because Cyrus’ team is extremely adaptable and resourceful – it’s just that the script by Daniel Kunka (12 Rounds) is too lazy to flesh out more complex outcomes for the circumstances it creates.

‘Lift’ Is High on Its Own Supply

Image via Netflix

Not that Lift has any commitment to reality. With a good chunk of it set on a plane, you’d think that claustrophobia and gravity would be two important elements that directly influence the story, but you’d be wrong. Pressure, airplane maneuvers, and pretty much anything involving high altitudes are only relevant to Lift when convenient, which means that sometimes you even forget that the story is taking place 40,000 feet up in the sky. It almost feels like Kunka thought “Wouldn’t it be great to have a heist movie set on a flying plane?” and thought the concept alone would be enough to make the story work.

Lift is also not great at making us care about any of its characters. Early in the movie, Cyrus’ team members are introduced as their jobs (“the hacker,” “the pilot,” “the safecracker,” etc.) and none of them evolve past that definition. To make matters worse, not even their one character trait is explored, which makes it hard to understand why they’re considered the best at what they do. Denton (D’Onofrio), for example, is described as a master of disguise, but you only see him wearing different wigs and glasses throughout the movie.

The experience gets even more frustrating when you consider who helmed Lift. Director F. Gary Gray had a solid directing breakout with the wildly entertaining The Italian Job and showed he could handle decent comedic timing with Be Cool – not to mention the excellent Straight Outta Compton. After The Fate of the Furious, however, it’s like Gray lost his mojo and barely makes any effort to insert those elements that, not long ago, he used to bring to the table.

At the end of the journey, Lift ends up as a double disappointment. It doesn’t work as a comedy, it doesn’t work as an action film, and its claim to the heist movie subgenre is tenuous at best. We’re neither compelled nor entertained as we just watch the scenes play out knowing fully well that everything will turn out okay and there will be no major curveballs thrown along the way. If that works for you, then just fasten your seat belt and go.

The poster for Lift

Lift

REVIEW

‘Lift’ wastes its comedic potential by not letting Kevin Hart be funny.

Pros

  • Even without being the funniest guy in the room, Kevin Hart is still fun to watch.
Cons

  • The supporting cast can’t keep the comedic timing rolling.
  • The stakes are as low as they come and you don’t care about the characters.
  • The actual plane heist is okay at best.

Lift is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S. starting January 12.

Watch on Netflix



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