“Empire State” may be packaged as a tough-guy material, but its deadweight plot traps the picture’s supposed criminal tension. Teetering between the edges of predictability and ridiculousness, this heist-gone-wrong tale offers no authority with its very shallow presentation. Its erratic sense of storytelling is utterly flat and lazy from start to end. As a generic crime flick streamlined and calculated to appeal to the fans of the genre, its series of uninspired actions, motivations, and connections are never really explored using convincing details.
Despite being based on a true story, this film by Dito Montiel consistently plays out in a completely predictable and unconvincing fashion. The story centers on the young cop wannabe Chris who finds himself unwittingly drawn into an elaborate robbing scheme during the 1980s. After getting turned down by the police academy, he is desperate for a way out of poverty for his family in their Greek neighborhood in New York. Soon, he settles for a low-paying gig as a security guard at an armored truck company with a very lax security.
After easily getting away with robbing a bag full of thousands of dollars for a small-time “Robin Hood mission,” Chris shares the experience with his perpetual troublemaker best friend Eddie. Eddie lures him with a sketchy plan, eventually taking $10 million from the company — the largest cash heist in U.S. history. In no time, they get entangled with a veteran detective hot on their trail and the local crime bosses who want to know who pulled the job on their turf.
Those seeking for mindless action can find nothing but disappointment in this blandly directed fare. Amidst being branded as a heist movie, most of the sequences actually detour from the heist route. The narrative feels so fabricated with a by-the-number structure — hastily inserting story details with lackluster sensibilities. The poorly written screenplay fails to infuse the mean-street approach needed to carry the real-life events the story is based on.
Lacking ambition to do more with the material, the treatment seems so confused on whether to go serious or campy. While the scenes don’t go the cartoonish route, everything from the uncomfortable encounters to the panicky gunfires to the heated arguments simply fills in the gaps of the story. Action is at a very low minimum and the presentation of the actual heist is completely mediocre. The way this unveils on screen fits more for a comedy picture than a crime flick.
Even the attempts to tap on the protective father-and-son relationship, as well as the tainted brotherhood conflict that shows criminal portrait of financial desperation, lacks vitality and dramatic purpose. At the very least, the run-off-the-mill intensity of the material provides some greased down period details for that 1980s atmosphere.
The actors never seem to put much effort on screen. Delivering little to no impact in the story, there is really nothing to make the audience care of what’s going on. There is nothing to grab hold of them. There are no subtexts and absolutely no surprises anywhere. Certain character nuances may look believable at times, but more often than not, poor character decisions render the story unbelievable.
Liam Hemsworth as Chris could have possibly carried enough dramatic weight to his role as a man living in an environment restrained by poverty and lack of power. However, the material doesn’t allow him to. In most scenes, his uninspired performance features that same facial impression of being uninterested.
Even Dwayne Johnson as detective James Ransome couldn’t carry the film with his tough-cop role. Although he tries to fill the screen with machismo, the script constrains his energy, which leaves him no room to flex his acting muscles.
Michael Angarano works as the blabbermouth crook Eddie, but his role is also confined with the dull treatment of this formulaic piece, which hampers him to add more relevant layers to the narrative.
Emma Roberts has that poor and baffling appearance as the waitress Nancy. Although billed alongside Hemsworth and Johnson, she has a very unclear character function with her cameo-like screen time — merely included to add a potential love interest to the mediocre story.