Dito Montiel is a director I’ve kept an eye on since I saw his underground fighting movie FIGHTING. That one’s not good for action filmatism, but it’s really enjoyable as a more realistically textured take on the LIONHEART type of movie, and it has alot of personality. The example I always give when I try to convince somebody to see it is that the ultimate goal of the fight manager character played by Terence Howard is to get enough money to franchise an IHoP. So see that one, everybody. Totally underrated.
EMPIRE STATE is Montiel’s first movie that doesn’t have Channing Tatum in it, instead it stars an occasionally Tatum-esque Liam Hemsworth, a.k.a. the only expended Expendable as of part 2 (spoiler). There’s something odd about an Australian doing a New York meathead character, but Thor’s little brother has more range than I knew. Maybe Tatum was Montiel’s DeNiro, and Hemsworth will be his DiCaprio. I guess we’ll know that’s what’s up if Tatum starts doing a bunch of DTV cop movies with 50 Cent.
This is another true crime-based movie featuring The Rock, but he’s not the star. The Hems plays Chris, a guy who gets a job at an armored car company where he sees all kinds of sloppiness and shady business and decides it would be worth his time to figure out how to rob the place. This place didn’t even keep track of how much money they had! That seems like a pretty big oversight. From what I’ve read the movie’s not real close to the facts, but the opening shows a bunch of vintage news clips of ’80s Tom Brokaw and others talking about the biggest robbery in New York history, but giving a bunch of different figures about how much was stolen. So that part must be accurate.
(The real guy is interviewed in the extras, by the way. It really seems like he was just a dude who did this because he noticed how easy it would be. Kind of an unusual dude to make a movie about.)
The Rock plays a police detective on the case, and I think we can assume that just like in PAIN & GAIN he’s not exactly based on a specific real guy. I guess adding The Rock into sequels as “franchise Viagra” was so successful they thought they should start inserting him into true stories. He’s starting to turn into Dwayne “The Composite” Johnson.
He’s a supporting player in this one, but he’s really cool, utilizing a bunch of the basic elements of the Dwayne Johnson repertoire: hyper-competent, in control, capable of being the most awesome buddy you ever made, also able to suddenly switch from genuine buddy to fake buddy if he realizes you stole a bunch of money and wants you to shit your pants. Now everything nice he says is obviously really a threat. It’s fun to watch him walk into a place and menace a bunch of gangsters while pretending the whole time that he’s making friendly conversation.
He’s also the type of detective character who sits back and watches and it seems like he’s figured out most or all of what’s going on, but he takes his time, staying quite about what his move is gonna be. Creating the suspense.
It’s a very New York movie in a pretty cliched way, a world made up almost entirely of schlubby, foul-mouthed assholes who talk about how hard they work and get in trouble with various factions of small time gangsters. The most important one here is this Greek guy Spiro (Chris Diamantop–
[HOLY SHIT. I have to interrupt myself here because I had to look up the actor on IMDb to get the name and I am flabbersmacked and gobgasted that it’s the same guy who played Moe in the Farrelly Brothers THREE STOOGES movie! I’m not gonna try to convince anybody but I thought that was a funny fuckin movie, and this guys is fantastic in it, a pretty much unknown guy that must’ve done a great audition and won the role over a thousand better known actors.]
–oulos) who just fired Chris’s dad Tommy (Paul Ben-Vic–
[WHAT THE FUCK!? Paul Ben-Victor also played Moe Howard, but in that 2000 TV movie that Mel Gibson produced. What is going on here, man? It’s kinda turning into a Moe-fest.]
-tor) from a club where he worked. This guy Spiro is a total asshole so when Chris, his friend Eddie (Michael Angarano) and two guys they know from the club decide to do the robbery they know they gotta leave him out of this deal. And it’s clear this will cause problems. But let’s be honest, The Rock is a big enough problem already, who has time to worry about dumbass Spiro? Who gives a shit?
Eddie is a funny scumbag-best-friend character, a shitpile of New York working class male stereotypes, a slimy arrogant dick strutting around complaining about various ethnicities and yelling at people across the street while his mouth is full of food and his friend is holding him back “it’s not worth it” style. I think it’s kind of a silly but impressive performance from the kid that got carjacked by Mallory Kane in HAYWIRE.
Emma Roberts is on the cover and gets a funny, likable intro as a waitress who’s a family friend of Chris’s, but she’s only in a couple other scenes. This is a total dude movie, there’s not even any fighting over women. The only other ladies that figure in are three girls Eddie sexually harasses on the street…
and Chris’s feisty take-no-shit mom.
Roger Guenveur Smith (DO THE RIGHT THING, MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE) shows up briefly as a cop – he was also in Montiel’s FIGHTING and SON OF NO ONE. The most impressive bit part is by Dan Triandiflou, in a brief appearance as a young Rudy Giuliani. He did a good job! Good impersonation without being cartoonish.
EMPIRE STATE is more solid and focused than SON OF NO ONE, but not nearly as filmatistically impressive or entertaining as FIGHTING. I gotta give it up for one minor detail though: not only does Hemsworth get the rare credit-over-his-first-appearance-in-the-movie, but he gets it as he’s leaping out of a car punching a dude! That’s the way to enter a movie.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.