Five people stand in an elevator, speeding upward.
Michael, a Manhattan bike courier, looking forward to his daughter’s birthday party.
Tina, a beautiful, high-strung stranger, determined to break off a longtime affair.
Eddie, a custodial engineer with a gambling problem.
Jeffrey Cage, billionaire, and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Eve, who are locked in bitter divorce proceedings.
On any other day, their elevator ride would be forgotten as soon as the doors opened and they arrived at their floor. They’d step off without a word. Barely a glance.
But this isn’t any other day. It’s the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Their elevator rises in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Suddenly, the building rocks. The elevator loses power. The building’s well-oiled machinery lurches to a stop. The passengers don’t know it yet, but a plane just hit the tower. They’re under attack. And the elevator they’re on just might be a cocoon … or a tomb.
What makes a hero? Does just trying to survive a terrible situation qualify? If so, then pretty much everyone we see here is a hero. If we set the bar a little higher, though, our heroes grow a bit thin.
Jeffrey wants to save his marriage, and that’s good. He wants to get his wife to safety, and that’s also good. He prioritizes everyone else’s safety over his own, which is great. And during the passengers’ long ordeal on the elevator, he seems to offer Michael a job and introduce the gambler Eddie to a new “casino” with much better odds … presumably the stock market. So that’s also … good?
Metzi, who’s apparently in charge of the World Trade Center’s elevator operations, tries to help the five passengers in their hour of need, leaving the building only when it seems absolutely necessary to evacuate.
Naturally, the firefighters we (briefly) see working in the building are the movie’s real heroes. That’s especially true of one who stays long after the tower’s integrity has been compromised, enabling him to rescue folks in some seriously perilous situations. Accordingly, the film is dedicated to those real-life, first-responding heroes.
As you might imagine, there’s quite a bit of praying going on inside and outside of that elevator. Metzi, when she finds some schematics that might help pry the elevator doors open, says, “Thank you, God, thank You, thank You.” Eddie petitions, “I know You’re probably slammed right now,” but adds tearfully that he just wants to see his wife and kids again. Someone else responds, “Eddie, if God can’t hear you, I’ll settle for a saint,” referencing someone who might hear them and bring help.
Eddie and Jeffrey talk about how a woman once survived a falling elevator in the Empire State Building. The elevator fell from the 80th floor, and the woman walked out without a single broken bone. Eddie calls the event a “miracle.” Jeffrey thinks it was more like random luck. Eddie says that he and his wife have been together for 23 years. “That alone reserves her a place in heaven,” he says.
Tina was in the World Trade Center in order to break off her relationship with an apparently much-older sugar daddy. She admits that she’s gotten some nice, material perks from the deal, but laments that “You don’t own any of it. It owns you. He owns you.” She tells her new elevator friends that her paramour is no “10,” but neither is she.
“To me you’re a 10,” Eddie tells her, trying to be nice. She takes it the wrong way and accuses the married janitor of hitting on her, alleging (falsely) that he’d been ogling her since their ordeal began.
Everyone then turns to Michael to hear his story: He refuses to talk much about himself, other than to say that he’s not having an affair with anyone, and, “I don’t have any of that gay s— going on, none of that.”
We see plenty of real news footage of the events of 9/11, including the plane exploding into the South Tower and, later, that tower coming down. We also hear references to the earlier terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, which killed six people and injured others. (Eddie says a friend of his lost a leg.)
But because the film’s drama is sequestered largely to a stationary elevator, we don’t witness much violence or mayhem. The elevator does plummet down several stories, causing its passengers to float in the air momentarily. And when it stops, Jeffrey’s white shirt is covered in blood.
Passengers pound on drywall outside the elevators. Metzi sadly tells the elevator’s passengers that people are beginning to jump from the building. Several people get to safety, and some are helped along by firemen or civilians.
CRUDE OR PROFANE LANGUAGE
We hear about 20 f-words and nearly 45 s-words. God’s name is misused about half a dozen times, twice with the word “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused twice. Characters say “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” Someone uses a derogatory term for the male anatomy.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
Tina carries some anti-anxiety medication, which she takes. She offers the drugs to others on the elevator: Eve, Jeffrey’s wife, agrees to take some, even though Jeffrey cautions her against it, given that she’s allergic to some medications. She stuffs another pill into Eddie’s mouth when he appears to be having a panic attack.
Jeffrey smokes. We see him light up during a meeting before getting on the elevator: When he’s reminded that no one’s allowed to smoke there, he throws the cigarette into his wife’s coffee cup. He puts a cigarette in his mouth a few more times, but doesn’t light up.
OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
As mentioned, Eddie has a gambling problem. He is, it’s suggested, in heavy-duty debt. He talks about his betting frequently, and he admits to his fellow passengers that he gambles because he wants to be a “hero” by increasing his daughter’s college fund with one lucky roll of the dice. “It just never happens that way,” he laments.
Michael expresses racially-based anger, blaming a “Pakistani” taxi driver for hurting his leg, even though he never actually saw the driver. (He assumes that the man had to be Pakistani or, perhaps, Filipino, because they’re terrible drivers. Michael, (who’s black) and Eddie (who’s Latino), get into a racially charged squabble before Michael turns on rich, white Jeffrey.
Jeffrey makes a crude joke involving urine, feces and his underwear. There are references to a disgustingly clogged toilet.
Let’s be honest: More people may hate the movie 9/11 than have actually seen it.
The movie didn’t get off on very good footing. The first trailer was widely reviled online, with some calling it “beyond offensive” and “horrific.” “It’s awful and manipulative and makes me mad at everyone involved,” tweeted one commenter.
Nor did it help that Charlie Sheen—whom some have characterized as a 9/11 “Truther” due to things he’s said in the past about the tragedy—was cast as the movie’s lead. Sheen has sidled away from those comments (without completely retracting them) in the lead-up to the film, but no matter: Even if Sheen had personally led rescue parties on Sept. 11, 2001, it doesn’t make this movie any better.
9/11 is a lifeless, pointless exercise in mawkish exploitation—the worst national tragedy most of us can remember leveraged to make an adult version of The Breakfast Club. Based on a play called Elevator by Patrick Carson, the dialogue feels wooden at best and unbelievable at worst. (Really, Eve? You want to take a break from justifiable panic to get Jeffrey to sign those divorce papers?)
It can feel even pretty preachy at times, too. While it’s nice to see a billionaire who’s not a moustache-twirling villain, the robust defense the film makes of his gloriously gotten gains—during, mind you, a terrorist attack—feels a little out of place here. (Little surprise that the film is being distributed by Atlas Distribution, the outfit best known for bringing Ayn Rand’s mega-capitalist opus Atlas Shrugged to the big screen.)
But even when we set aside any concerns over the movie’s quality or secondary goals, this still isn’t an ideal family movie. And the sad thing is, it could’ve been better than it is. The violent content here is surprisingly restrained, given the setting. Sex is only referenced, and then somewhat obliquely. But the language sends this movie straight from the confines of a comfortably PG-13 drama straight into R-rated territory. A shame.
The events of that tragic September day were incredibly horrific, no question. We deal with the event’s aftermath still. But that day also revealed many a hero—some who lived, some who died, and some who fought the evil that caused it. Many of those stories have been dramatized on film and television. Many filmmakers have documented the horrors and heroes we saw that day. And many—even many that are difficult to watch—are worth watching.
This is not one of them.
Charlie Sheen as Jeffrey Cage; Whoopi Goldberg as Metzie; Gina Gershon as Eve; Luis Guzmán as Eddie; Wood Harris as Michael; Olga Fonda as Tina
September 8, 2017