Charlie Sheen and 9/11… Good God, fasten your seatbelts, readers.
Cast of Characters:
Jeffery Cage – Charlie Sheen
Eve – Gina Gershon
Eddie – Luis Guzman
Michael – Wood Harris
Tina – Olga Fonda
Monohan – Bruce Davison
Diane – Jacqueline Bisset
Metzie – Whoopi Goldberg
Director – Martin Guigui
Screenplay – Martin Guigui & Steve Golebiowski
Based on the stage play Elevator by Patrick Carson
Producer – Dahlia Waingort, Warren Ostergard & Martin Sprock
Rated R for language
It was just another day for five individuals on the morning of September 11, 2001. Michael (Wood Harris), a bike messenger, is trying to hurry through his deliveries in time to get to his daughter’s birthday; Eddie (Luis Guzman) is getting ready for his workday as a World Trade Center custodian; pill-popping mistress Tina (Olga Fonda) is getting ready to confront her sugar daddy; and billionaire Jeffery Cage (Charlie Sheen) and his wife Eve (Gina Gershon) are about to finalize their divorce.
And then one elevator ride together will forever change their lives.
After two planes crash into the North and South Towers of the WTC, the five find themselves stuck in the middle of this disaster, with time clearly not on their side. Trapped and desperately looking for any means of an exit, Eddie is able to contact control board operator Metzie (Whoopi Goldberg) to help guide them to safety before it is too late.
Any film about 9/11 is just asking for a whole wide world of trouble. No matter how good or bad, every effort centered around those events will be poked, prodded, scrutinized, gone over with a fine-tooth comb and nitpicked to no end, and even the ever so slightest misstep taken will surely draw cries of “distasteful”, “insensitive” and “exploitative” from audiences.
So let’s give it up to The Bronx Bull (the Raging Bull prequel/sequel no one was waiting for) co-writer/director Martin Guigui for sneering at “slightest” missteps and instead going big or going home by having his film be led by Charlie Sheen – a man who’s never been shy in voicing his crazy conspiracy theories surrounding those events.
While the movie industry still seems to be hesitant even now 16 years after the events, it’s not an inherently dead-on-arrival endeavor to base your film on the events of 9/11; in fact, we have gotten at least two pictures that have handled the subject quite well. In 2006, Paul Greengrass gave us United 93, a respectfully gripping tribute to the heroic passengers of United Airlines Flight 93. Also that year, Oliver Stone took a broader approach in terms of both scale and scope with the Nicolas Cage led World Trade Center.
So, here we are with 9/11, based on Patrick Carson’s mostly one-setting stage play Elevator. Where does this film rank among the other 9/11-themed films?
The Good: The efforts from the cast are earnest, if not entirely successful (Olga Fonda gives new meaning to over-acting and Jacqueline Bisset appears to not be acting enough). Despite the understandable controversy surrounding his casting, Charlie Sheen acquits himself solidly, even if it appears he’s lost much of the energy he once had back in his heyday. Wood Harris, Luis Guzman and Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg (bad hairpiece notwithstanding) turn in unshowy yet empathetic performances as blue-collar workers caught in the middle of this tragedy.
It’s Gina Gershon who shines the brightest here, giving the film’s standout performance as the embittered, soon-to-be ex-wife of Sheen’s Jeffery Cage. Even though Bisset’s stiffness keeps a particular telephone scene between her and Gershon from reaching the dramatic level it could have reached, Gershon delivers on her end, hitting all the right emotionally honest notes to pack that moment with enough of a heart-breaking punch.
The Bad: Okay – whew – here we go. Having your film titled “9/11” implies something grander, more immense in scale for your story, at least that’s what viewers going in fresh will probably expect. Maintaining the title of its stage play source would’ve relieved the film of the task of needing to live up to a title such as 9/11. However, from the studio’s standpoint, marketing a film titled Elevator is significantly more difficult. That’s the dilemma the filmmakers and the studio backing them faced, and unfortunately, the story is too micro in scale to cover as wide a range as the title they went with suggests.
It’s not that an intimate, smaller-scale retelling that focuses on one aspect of 9/11 couldn’t work, far from it. United 93 still remains the best film depicting events of that day, with Stone’s retelling sitting at second place. The issue here is that Martin Guigui and Steve Golebiowski’s script just isn’t strong enough to carry a film that centers on five people trapped in one setting for 80-85% of the film. To make that work, you need compelling dialogue, well drawn-out characters and even without the epic scale, you still need a strong sense of urgency to motivate these characters. Here, the dialogue rings hollow, the characters are one-dimensional and a sense of urgency isn’t really felt until toward the end, but by then – you guessed it – it’s too little, too late.
The Ugly: There’s not single frame shown onscreen that doesn’t scream cheap. To be brutally honest, between Massimo Zeri’s muddy cinematography and Goldberg’s distracting wig that shifts so much throughout the film you’d swear it’s a live animal perched on her head, 9/11 has the production value of a school play bootlegged with an Obama phone. Sure, you don’t need to dump all of Fort Knox’s gold on the production, but – damn – I’ve seen better visual effects from nobody YouTube users testing out their demo version of After Effects.
Consensus: While the cast do what they can to elevate the material, their contributions are unfortunately overshadowed by the film’s weak script and cheap production values. Unlike what other critics have shamed the film for being, I don’t believe 9/11 is distasteful or exploitative; it’s only crime is simply being a poorly made film.
Silver Screen Fanatic’s Verdict: I give 9/11 a D+ (★½).