When I saw that a new Kevin Hart movie had been released on Netflix on Jan. 21, I knew I had to watch it. Not because I expected anything new or original, or because I expected great acting and cinematography, but because I expected the usual Kevin Hart fare: a feel-good action movie heavily peppered with physical comedy and height jokes.
Lift was definitely not what I expected. In the film, Hart plays Cyrus, a suave, Robin Hood-esque leader of a crew of art thieves. After getting caught on one of their heists by Interpol agent Abby (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Cyrus and his crew are roped into helping her catch Lars Jorgenson (Jean Reno), a violent criminal orchestrating an impending cyberattack.
It was quickly apparent within the opening minutes of the film that Hart was aiming for charisma over comedy, as if Cyrus was meant to be a new Ethan Hunt from Mission: Impossible or Thomas Crown from The Thomas Crown Affair. Instead of the slapstick goofball I was expecting, he played a smooth, ultimately good guy working outside of the law.
And once I got over my initial surprise, I actually got into the idea of a film that edges toward the boundaries of Hart’s range. My expectations for the film were raised. Maybe this was the beginning of a new franchise of heist movies. Maybe Cyrus would turn out to be a new icon of action cinema.
I was sorely mistaken. Instead of diving into the emotional depth and potential of a morally gray protagonist, the film holds back. Cyrus and his team routinely break the law and steal works of art, but there is never a moment when we doubt that they are the good guys. Because of this, the characters are boring and bland.
Cyrus has the chance to try and escape Interpol at least once, but he doesn’t. I kept waiting for him to at least try to steal something from under Abby’s nose or do something interesting, but he never does. He completely flips from being an organized criminal in the first few minutes to a strait-laced, cooperative and bland partner of the law.
Not only that, but most of his team members don’t develop into anything past mechanical cogs in Cyrus’ heists. They have essentially no personalities, and despite them being played by good actors (such as Vincent D’Onofrio), we have very little sense of who they are as people or why we should care about them. For example, I know Camila (Úrsula Corberó) is the pilot in their operation, but nothing else.
Even the plot itself is somehow both convoluted and shallow. The film is split into two parts: the opening minutes are dedicated to an art heist, and the rest of the runtime is dedicated to the planning and execution of a mission to capture another random criminal. If the threat is so serious, why is thwarting Jorgenson’s cyberattack tasked solely to a random art thief and his crew? We don’t know. Why does Interpol essentially give these known criminals free rein over preventing said cyberattack? We also don’t know.
I found myself craving depth. I wanted more, outside of the mechanics of the heists. I wished that the movie had begun earlier so we could see the beginning of the relationship between Abby and Cyrus, and Abby subsequently dedicating her career to catching him. I wanted there to be any sort of connection between Cyrus, Abby and Jorgenson that would give the film more emotional stakes.