Vic’s Review – “Empire State” (2013)

"Empire State" stars Dwayne Johnson, Liam Hemsworth and Emma Roberts
“Empire State” stars Dwayne Johnson, Liam Hemsworth and Emma Roberts

What’s it About?

A drama centered on two childhood friends who plan to rob an armored car depository, and the NYPD officer who stands in their way.

Directed by Dito Montiel

By Vic

Never has a true story about an actual real life heist, that was committed in my hometown of NYC (The Bronx specifically), been executed in a movie, in such a boring and illogical manner. In 1982, an armored car depository in the Bronx is robbed of a large sum of money and thus begins a massive search by the NYPD and the FBI to find those responsible.  The heist results in the largest cash robbery in US history. Director Dito Montiel (Son of No One and Fighting both with Channing Tatum) leads us through a sometimes interesting but ultimately flat ride through history and drama.

We feel like we are dragged, with our minds unable to escape, numbingly through this pedestrian effort that never gets off the ground. After Chris (Hemsworth) is denied entry into the NYPD he manages to secure a boring but well paying gig at the Empire Armored Truck Company. His father, Tommy (Paul Ben Victor of True Romance), is fired from his job after Chris loses his patience with his Dad’s boss. Chris, who is of Greek descent,  in some way feels responsible.

He is a passionate and dedicated person but is unfortunately caught up with the worst sorts of characters like his Father was. These people, who are seedy drug dealers and gun runners, seem to have it in for him but it is his best friend, Eddie (Michael Angarano) who is the worst influence on Chris. During a robbery gone wrong, Chris’s partner is killed during a routine stop. Chris, after taking some money from a bag in the depository (Which has a live in guard dog), gives his partner’s widow an envelope full of cash, no questions asked.

Chris makes the mistake of telling Eddie about the laid back and almost non-existent security at the Depository. Eddie, who is a loud, boozy, jittery big mouth tells Tommy’s ex-bosses about all the money that is just waiting to be heisted at Chris’s job.  Eddie and ultimately Chris decide to pull off the heist together. Then begins the convoluted story that never really holds our interest because of a un-effective script and flat acting.

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Dito Montiel, Production Designer Ethan Tobman (Kill Theory) and writer Adam Mazar do a great job of establishing the era of the heist. What they do really well is compile old news footage, newspaper clips and the street look of NYC in 1982. It is a feat that could not have been too simple. For this reason is why I give the movie the rating that I do. The NYC streets are lined with accurate storefronts and businesses of the time. We see some great polished up stock footage of the Bronx that looks accurate and gritty.

The streets are litter lined and sports abandoned cars which only need to have some cinder blocks to make it perfect. There is graffiti on the walls and the soundtrack is spot on. Tobman also manages to convey the texture of the era too. The crowded bars, ethnicities, clothes, fashion and even a 92KTU radio station billboard is included. Dito’s city montages are the only very cool parts of the movie. Upon setting the great canvas, the filmmakers can’t pull off the story and fail in painting a memorable picture.

Texture and feel is not enough, unfortunately. The movie is just hollow and the actors, who over do their accents and gesticulate as if having seizures, can’t hold the film together. Dito tries to make his characters very colorful much like what Scorcese pulled off in “Goodfellas” but what lacks is the fire and passion. This true life story should have jumped off the screen but it never does. Hemsworth seems off his game and Angarano is completely over the top and too bombastic to the point of caricature. Too bad too because if he would have toned it down he would have been less distracting.

Dwayne Johnson (The Mummy Returns) as FBI agent James Ransome is barely competent here.  Johnson and his partner (who sports a very irritating accent) try to keep up with Chris and Eddie after footage of the heist gets analyzed. But Johnson has nothing to work with and he is (Like all the others) nothing more than a stereotype. He is reduced to walking around looking tough, talking low and engaging in some badly staged gunplay. (All of the set pieces really sink, here) The only actor who handles the material believably is Ben Paul Victor who is notably tired and downtrodden by his life and family. So, Montiel provides us with the cat and mouse cliches between Ransome and Chris.

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Well, things go horribly wrong and Montiel manages to get the story going when Ransome  always remains a step behind Eddie and Chris. Oh and eventually Emma Roberts in shown in this film but she has next to no screen time and she is totally wasted here. She has no real contribution to speak about.

“Empire State” is a missed opportunity. It had potential. The drama, which takes a backseat to the production design and interesting historical accuracy, is never really present. I can go on about some idiosyncrasies, too, but I don’t want to go there. “Empire State” should probably only be watched if you have nothing else to view one evening.

Though it is colorful, the movie is just plain boring and unambitious. Even the hokey ending where the real life Chris is interviewed, seems tacked on and out of place. If you like stereotypes and low rent copies of better movies like “Carlito’s Way” or “Goodfellas” then give “Empire State” a go. I mean, shit, how do you fuck up a heist film? Especially if it’s based on a true story? History should have been the best template to use to get this turkey to work. But it just hangs there and shrivels under scrutiny. Oh and Dwayne Johnson and Emma Roberts, you two need to makes some movies that you can bite into instead of being the equivalent of cinematic old wallpaper. Rent before buying!


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