DVD Review - Empire State

Liam Hemsworth (left) and
Michael Angarano in "Empire State"
Dito Montiel directs a screenplay by Adam Mazer based on a real-life robbery that occurred in Queens, New York back in the 1980s. The movie feels and looks like a spin-off of Montiel's semi-autobiographical debut A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006). Oddly, the majority of the movie was shot in New Orleans, but Montiel's crew perfectly conveys that late 70s and early 80s, New York City vibe. The period details like cars, clothing, music and set decoration such as props like rotary phones are spot on. Even a movie theater showcasing Poltergeist (1982) is in full display.

Montiel was the one who practically discovered Channing Tatum and has since used him in several of his movies, but now Tatum is perhaps too expensive for Montiel to afford, so Montiel has gotten a substitute. Montiel has gotten Liam Hemsworth who is probably most known for his role in The Hunger Games (2012) and being the brother of Chris Hemsworth (Thor and The Avengers), but Liam Hemsworth isn't a big star yet himself. Hemsworth who plays Chris Potamitis is essentially doing the job Tatum has done for Montiel time and time again.

Michael Angarano (The Forbidden Kingdom and Haywire) plays Chris' best friend Eddie and Angarano is clearly the Shia LaBeouf type. Angarano is way more extreme here than LaBeouf was in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Eddie is a fast-talking, big mouth who contributes to this movie's love of f-bombs. Angarano is merely doing a version of what he's done in other films but you have less empathy for Eddie because either through Angarano's performance, Mazer's writing or Montiel's direction, any compassion doesn't come through.

Last year, an amazing British series called Inside Men told the story told here but in a far better way. Yes, this story predates the British series, but everything in Montiel's film feels lesser, especially in the wake of the American series Breaking Bad. It's essentially about a guy named Chris who plans with his best friend to rob Chris' job. Chris works as a security guard at a place that holds millions in cash.

Chris backs out of it and Eddie still pushes to do it. The movie never gives us enough about Eddie to understand his motivations. Given Chris at one point wanted to be a police officer, we're also not given enough to understand why he would go along or allow Eddie to continue the robbery. It just gets to a point where it all falls apart.

Montiel does assemble a great cast, including Dwayne Johnson, Jerry Ferrara, Emma Roberts, Chris Diamantopoulos and Roger Guenveur Smith. Watching their performances, often in one scene or two, is fine, but it's not enough.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence and pervasive language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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