Judge Jason Panella is in an Empire State of mind.
The real question is: Why are The Rock and Emma Roberts on the DVD cover?
Facts of the Case
Chris (Liam Hemsworth, The Hunger Games) and Eddie (Michael Angarano, Sky High) are two pals struggling through their blue-collar existence in 1980s New York. After Chris lands a job as a security guard at an armored car service, he and Eddie cook up a plan to rob the place—if a persistent cop (Dwayne Johnson, Walking Tall) doesn't stop him first.
There's a scene in Empire State where the character Eddie upsets his close friend Chris enough that the two start spewing profanities at each other for several minutes. One storms off, the other grits his teeth in anger. Come to think of it, there are a lot of scenes like this in the movie, enough that you could sum the movie up as a bunch people cussing loudly at each other, plus a gunfight at one point.
Empire State is based on the string of events in 1982 that led to the robbery of $11 million from the Sentry Armored Car Company, a heist that—at the time—was the largest cash theft in U.S. history. Calling Empire State a heist movie would be incredibly inaccurate, though—this is no Rififi. Heck, this is no Catch That Kid. What Empire State is, though, is a no frills period drama that focuses way, way too much on the mundane aspects of the crime. In a way, I kind of appreciated this. I'm a sucker for slow-burners, and Empire State is about as far away from "action movie" as you can get (despite the presence of Dwayne Johnson). The film heats the water slowly: we get to see Chris's frustrations over not being able to make it into the police academy; we get to see how tough Chris has it as a poor Greek-American kid (and then there's that moment when you realize that Liam Hemsworth is playing a Greek-American); we get to see the gears turning in his head when he realizes how much money he has to guard every day at his new job. But by the time the water finally starts simmering, the film is wrapping up. Adam Mazer's (Breach) script is the biggest problem; every time the movie starts to pick up steam, it slides back into tough-guy cliches. It doesn't help that musician-turned-director Dito Montiel (Fighting) really tries to intensify the "hey, New York in the '80s is tough!" vibe by having everyone talk louder.
Hemsworth is fine as Chris, giving his character a subdued note that works well with the material. Angarano, on the other hand, is overbearing—I'm not sure if this is terrible or awesome casting, but his character Eddie is about as insufferable as you can get. And Johnson? He gives an unremarkable low-key performance and is onscreen for about 15 minutes tops. Emma Roberts (Scream 4) gets it worse, though; despite being third billed, she's in the movie for about three minutes. Marketing is everything, I guess.
Lionsgate's Blu-ray release of Empire State looks and sounds great. The 2.40:1/1080p non-anamorphic widescreen presentation looks good, with no visible problems (unless you count the overbearing orange color grading that makes the cast look like they fake-baked as a problem). The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is excellent, balancing music, dialogue, and sound effects well. The extras are OK: some so-so deleted scenes (adding up to almost 10 minutes); an inconsequential director commentary from Montiel; the behind-the-scenes featurette "Creating an Empire;" and "Anatomy of a Heist," a look at the real Sentry robbery. The Blu-ray also comes with a DVD copy of the film and a redeemable code for a digital Ultraviolet copy.
Want to watch a movie spin its wheels for an hour and a half? Check out Empire State. At least it spins its wheels confidently.
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Scales of Justice
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