DVD Reviews, Reviews — December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm

PANNING THE STREAM: EMPIRE STATE

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empirestate-posterGlad to see you’ve returned to see what potentially surprising treat might be found from dipping into the ever-flowing stream of online content. Not sure if you smell what the Rock is cooking, but I’m going to take a look in the kitchen and have a look see.

It’s 1982 in New York and Chris Potamitis (Liam Hemsworth) is hoping to become one of the next “boys in blue,” but a wild night with his childhood friend Eddie (Michael Angarano) from his past kills his chances. Anxious to find a steady job to help provide for his mom and recently fired father Tommy (Paul Ben-Victor), Chris takes a job working as a security for Empire State Armored Truck Company. Although the Company handles millions of dollars, their security and staff is suspect. Relegated to desk duty after being robbed on the route, Chris ponders skimming a little cream from the poorly-managed facility. His excitable buddy Eddie, latches onto the idea and a heist is born. Unfortunately, NYPD Detective James Ransome (Dwayne Johnson) doesn’t see the robbery as an elaborate mob caper as the Feds do and continues investigating Chris’s involvement.

The second time out for this new column and I’ve unintentionally pulled my second straight-to-DVD release from 50 Cent’s Cheetah Vision. Unlike Fire with Fire, 50 Cent doesn’t make an appearance and no one sleepwalks through their performances. Released in September 2013, Empire State is based on a true story written for the screen by Adam Mazur. The real Chris Potamitis co-produces with director Dito Montiel manning the helm.

Empire State captures the look and feel of the early 80′s setting even if, visually, the casting is only loosely representative. If I don’t overthink it, I can overlook Hemsworth’s blond-haired Greek-American portrayal, but for some reason Dwayne Johnson really bugged the hell out of me. He just looked like they dropped the Rock, in all his hulking, shiny-headed, expertly manicured glory, smack onto the dingy streets of New York City.

All that oddness aside, all the actors, from Hemsworth and Johnson to Emma Roberts and Paul Ben-Victor in their smaller roles, performed decently. Out of them all, Michael Angarano, who plays Chris’s high-strung, strung-out friend Eddie, chews up the scenery. Eddie is portrayed as such an annoying, good-for-nothing punk that you really wish Chris would have, at the very least, beat him so hard he’d knock the assholishness right out of him. Eddie is a wholly unlikable character, a point which Angarano gets across outstandingly.

Empire State‘s narrative lacks in the dramatic. From a screenwriting perspective, based-on-a-true-story concepts can prove problematic. The problem is real life is rarely as exciting as Hollywood’s version of reality, so the storyteller must decide whether to remain true to the source material or spice things up for the sake of entertainment. Empire State seems to stick closer to its true-story roots, forsaking the spectacle and pomp of a heist movie. Unfortunately, the material isn’t compelling enough to engross audiences in the plight of its main character.

Empire State is an unusual film. There’s a respectable realism to the couple of shoot-outs and a some notable portrayals, but it isn’t enough to rise above underwhelming.  In Empire State, Chris’s dilemma is whether to take or protect the money. Like him, your choice is to watch or avoid this film, but whichever you decide, know, the responsibility is ultimately yours.

♥♥1/2

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