“Lift” is a caper based on an absurd concept: an NFT gaining in value. That may have looked feasible two years ago, when Netflix first acquired Daniel Kunka’s spec movie, but F. Gary Gray’s followup to “Men in Black: International” had the misfortune of arriving shortly after the vast majority of non-fungible tokens were declared officially worthless. Even if the MacGuffin that sets this heist in motion were a physical object, “Lift” would suffer from a major lack of star power at its centre: Kevin Hart, who has the acting talents and gravitas to lead such a movie — or anything other than broad comedies, it appears.
The comedian is tragically miscast as Cyrus Whitaker, the leader of a jet-setting team of thieves whose sophisticated knowhow qualifies him to work with Interpol on, you guessed it, one more mission to foil a terrorist whose own sins make Cyrus look like a boy scout. The international police organisation is represented by Abby Gladwell (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), with whom Cyrus has a history. You can probably anticipate where much of this is headed.
The trouble is that the two have no chemistry together, and Mbatha-Raw can’t help but outshine Hart whenever they share the screen. His thief-with-a-heart-of-gold shtick is intended to gradually win her over — and us — but it feels staged from the start. The troubles affect Cyrus’ entire squad. Denton (Vincent D’Onofrio), pilot Camila (Úrsula Corberó), and safecracker Magnus (Billy Magnussen) must work together to bring down financial terrorist Lars Jorgensen (Jean Reno), who is given little to do. Their roles in the gang are all familiar, but while the actors are good, their parts are too thinly written for any of them to appear as more than gears in a not-so-well-oiled machine.
At points, it appears that “Lift” was meant as a “Spy”-style spoof, and it would have worked better as such: Hart uttering lines like “I would never lift anything from anyone who doesn’t deserve to lose it” while wearing a black turtleneck would be more entertaining if the producers played up the underlying ridiculousness of the situation. Ditto for the third act, which takes place on an aircraft and completes the title’s pun: “Lift” takes itself far too seriously, even when attempting to be funny.
Grey, who began his career in music videos before directing films such as “Friday,” “Straight Outta Compton,” and “The Fate of the Furious,” is an adept director with a penchant for well-executed action sequences. It’s impossible to blame him for any of the flaws in “Lift” when the screenplay clearly falls short. Almost every scene is a cliché, and every piece of speech is a rehash of one from a better picture. The online equivalent of a popcorn movie has its charm, but low-effort ventures like this appear to amplify its flaws when viewed at home rather than in a theatre.
As bad as multiplex fare can be in January, streaming entertainment appears to be equally forgettable. “Some people say they’re just a passing fad,” Hart says about NFTs in a pivotal sequence. “I say that all art just depends on the artist.” True, which is bad news for “Lift.”