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  Downtime Give It A Lift With McGann
Year: 1997
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Stars: Paul McGann, Susan Lynch, Tom Georgeson, David Roper, Denise Bryson, Adam Johnston, David Horsefield, Stephen Graham, Birdy Sweeney, Paul Johnson
Genre: Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: The police have been called to this tower block in a deprived area of Newcastle because there is a woman, Chrissy (Susan Lynch), balanced on a short bracket on one of the highest floors threatening to commit suicide, and holding her young son at the same time. Someone is called to talk her back in, so as the rain begins to pour psychologist Rob (Paul McGann) arrives and takes the temperamental lift up to the location of the crisis, though there is a problem in that he cannot stand heights, and this involves him going out to the balcony to speak to Chrissy...

Don't worry, it wouldn't be much of a movie if the leading lady killed herself in the first five minutes, but then many would argue it wasn't much of a movie even when she didn't. Although some believed Downtime was underrated, the victim of a poor reception that was unfair to its ambitions as a British action movie on a budget, it could be those very ambitions which scuppered it chances because almost everyone who did see it would either compare it to some Hollywood blockbuster such as Die Hard, then identify the kitchen sink aspect and invoke the name of Ken Loach. Call it Death Wish 3 directed by Alan Clarke, for example, and you'd be some way to how this was judged.

Although that wasn't too far off the general effect, with some finding Downtime unintentionally funny as it strenuously attempted to deliver action flick thrills while appealing to the social conscience in the audience, all very well but traditionally if you had a message in your action adventure, it would have to be very well integrated - or even hidden - for people to accept it as the right path to take in their entertainment. Sadly, in this case it often felt like two different films taking place in the same location, with Rob improbably wooing Chrissy initially to make her feel better after he nearly allowed her to drop to her death, leaving coppers to catch her as she fell (if that's even possible).

No matter that this is deeply unprofessional - psychologists don't as a rule use their line of a work to double as a dating agency - she obviously isn't interested anyway, and Rob is such a nervy, anxious type you can't see the relationship he wants as providing him much succour. While all this is going on, there is a gang who hang out in the block, their base of operations being the "engine room" of that tricky lift; they are led by a pre-fame Stephen Graham as pushy thug Jacko who victimises the residents, including the parents of Kevin (David Horsefield) who is growing resentful of him. One elevator breakdown later, and Jacko smashing up the controls, oh and a fire too, and Chrissy, Rob, the little boy and Kevin's granddad are trapped in it, wondering how to get out.

Much of the film takes place in the shaft as Rob turns man of action, leaping from cables, swinging at great heights, pulling other characters to safety, and generally acting the hero except we've seen his wimpiness too vividly to be convinced by any of this. McGann did better in the quieter scenes, but everyone had to contend with the dialogue which wanted to be hardboiled but played daftly overheated, relying on masses of swearing to make the lower class characters sound earthy - Rob is middle class and therefore a lot more moderated in his language. You can see how silly this is, and quite what the point was is hard to fathom as its social commentary was flimsy other than stating the obvious and even then it wrapped up the questions it raised with a perfunctory "love conquers all" finale that was not so much heartwarming as it was unbelievable. Especially as we still have important plot points to be resolved - do the gang get away with it, then? What happened to Kevin? Music by Simon Boswell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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