There’s a very good chance that you’ve seen Empire State already. Perhaps not with these characters, but I’m willing to bet you’ve seen a number of heist films that are exactly like it and which tell the story with more flair and excitement. Forget that this is supposedly based on a true story (by now you should be well aware of what that really means). When that story has already been seen in countless films, that should immediately make the filmmakers ask themselves “Do we really need to tell it again, just with different characters?” Apparently they thought they had something great on their hands, but the studio saw exactly what was happening and, not deeming it worthy of a theatrical release, decided to dump it straight to Blu-Ray and DVD. At least somebody had an objective viewpoint of the project.
The main focus of Empire State is Chris Potamitis (Liam Hemsworth), a young man living in 1980s New York City. Desperate for work, he applies to be a security guard for Empire, a company that guards large amounts of money. Noticing that the security there is pretty lax, he decides to take a “small” amount for himself ($25,000). After telling his friend Eddie (Michael Angarano), they quickly start to hatch a scheme to steal the millions of dollars that the company protects. The two eventually take around $10 million dollars, but quickly become entangled with a police investigation led by James Ransome (Dwayne Johnson). It’s not long before he starts making progress, with his suspicious eyes falling squarely on Chris.
There isn’t really any beating around the bush on this film. There’s a reason it went straight to store shelves, several in fact. Not only have we seen “inside job” heists like this before, but because of that, we can tell everything that’s going to happen every step of the way. Again, it’s supposedly based on a true story, so some might already be familiar with what happened to Chris and his partner-in-crime before the film even starts, but even if you’re not, it doesn’t take long to figure out it out for yourself.
The other issue is that it’s not believable, and yet it apparently happened, so either they’re exaggerating things quite a bit or Chris Potamitis really was one of the dumbest criminals in history. Did he not think that the suspicion would immediately fall upon him and his acquaintances? How could he not have realized that he would be found out pretty easily, especially by pulling the heist with a blabbermouth like Eddie? He already knew Eddie couldn’t be trusted to keep a secret when he spilled the beans to everyone within earshot about the $25,000, so what made him think that trying to take more with this guy would be a good idea? Again, exaggerated or truly one of the dumbest criminals in history?
Like any great heist film, one of the main highlights tends to be the heist itself. It’s usually very daring, suspenseful, and makes your heart race in anticipation. However, when it comes to the actual heist in Empire State, you’ll get none of that. It’s rather mediocre in its presentation, consisting of Eddie coming in through the ceiling then having Chris open the doors to where the money is kept. Aside from Eddie knocking out a couple of security cameras, the action is at a very low minimum. Not exactly what we think of when we consider some of the greatest heist films of all time: Rififi, Inception, Ocean’s Eleven, etc.
So where is the blame to go? The film was written by Adam Mazer, who has had two well-received projects with Breach and You Don’t Know Jack, the latter of which won him an Emmy. But, Empire State was directed by Dito Montiel, who previously gave us the terrible The Son of No One, another really bland film. A poorly-written screenplay coupled with bad direction easily spells disaster, and yet neither of them saw what was going wrong right in front of them. Perhaps they were aiming for direct-to-DVD all along?
Even the actors seem to realize that something was not going quite right. They never seem to be putting in much effort, as though they think the film will never see the light of day. With such shallow characters, it’s hard to blame them. This is the kind of film where everyone comes right out and says what they want. There’s no subtext, no surprise, nothing to grab hold of the audience or make them care about what’s going to happen. To put it bluntly, there’s absolutely no reason to waste your time with it.
The film itself is presented in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that looks pristine. A lot of the film takes place in dimly-lit locations, but the picture remains perfectly sharp at all times. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has no issues to speak of, coming through loud and clear throughout the entire film. In may have been direct-to-DVD, but they certainly didn’t skimp in either area.
Special features on the disc include the following:
- Director’s Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- Creating an Empire: Behind the Scenes with Interviews of Cast/Crew
- Anatomy of a Heist: The Mastermind Behind the Robbery Featurette
Starting with the commentary, a sampling shows that Montiel is rather strapped for anything interesting to say about the film. You may recall from my Blu-ray review of The Son of No One that he merely likes to talk about what’s happening on screen. He improves a little bit here, but still doesn’t delve into the making of the film as much as he should. The Deleted Scenes are merely three scenes that were cut out for a good reason: they add nothing to the story. The “Creating an Empire” featurette” is ok, but again not particularly in-depth in its interviews with cast and crew. The extra that ends up being the most interesting is the “Anatomy of a Heist” featurette, which features the real-life Chris Potamitis describing how the heist was achieved, detailing the failed plans and the one that eventually worked.
Overall, there’s just not a whole lot to recommend about Empire State. If you want to learn about what really happened, you can simply look it up anywhere online instead of taking the 90 minutes to sit through this flat and lazy telling of the tale. This may have been a fascinating and original story when it happened back in the 80s, but all this film proves is that it took someone far too long to finally put the story in front of the camera.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
Despite being based on a true story, Empire State is nothing but a bland and predictable tale that completely lacks originality.