Submitted for your approval the following tale: Five perfect strangers find themselves hopelessly trapped in an elevator on the 38th floor of one of the world’s largest skyscrapers. The elevator door is locked, and help is most certainly not coming. If they wish to forestall meeting their maker, these individuals must set aside their personal grievances and work together to find a way out, and fast. Why, you ask? Because today’s date is September 11th, 2001. This elevator’s next stop? THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
If Rod Serling had stepped out from left of frame at the start of 9/11, I would not have been the least bit surprised. The setup and structure of this film bears all the hallmarks of Serling’s classic series, but not in any way that feels intended. We meet our characters in rapid succession, hurl them into a life-or-death scenario and then wait for the impossible turn in the third act. Except that turn never comes. Instead, we watch as a whole bunch of nothing happens, because 9/11 expects the drama to generate itself based on its title alone. And it is exactly as lazy a piece of filmmaking as you’d assume a film titled 9/11 could be.
Charlie Sheen plays Jeffrey Cage, a billionaire workaholic whose wife Eve (Gina Gershon) wants a divorce; they’re in the World Trade Center today hashing out the terms. Meanwhile, Michael (Wood Harris) is a bike messenger making a delivery, Tina (Olga Fonda) is on her way to break up with her sugar daddy boyfriend, and Eddie (Luis Guzman) is a custodian on his way to a clogged toilet. When the first plane hits the North tower, their elevator stops on the 38th floor, and their only communication to the outside is Metzie (Whoopi Goldberg), a security coordinator who sticks with them via intercom.
There is something vaguely, yet insistently, cynical about this entire production. 9/11 is a low-rent affair, not necessarily a mark against it, but the way it deploys actual footage of the planes hitting the towers (three times, no less) feels not only cheap, but also incredibly shameless. It constantly cuts back to news footage of the World Trade Center burning, just to remind us of the stakes. This is the sign of a filmmaker with no confidence in his script or cast to do their jobs. Then again, when you have Charlie Sheen and Gina Gershon shrieking at each other over their marriage instead of their situation, you might rely on the dulcet tones of Matt Lauer and Katie Couric too. Anything to keep the focus away from a script constantly going in circles.
Who is this film even for?
9/11 was an absolute tragedy, one many are still struggling with sixteen years later. Dozens of filmmakers have worked through their feelings about it onscreen in the years since. What sets 9/11 director Martin Guigui apart, though, is that I am hard pressed to tell you what his feelings on 9/11 are from this film. Where some might view the events as a religious awakening, a political call to action or even a schmaltzy affirmation of life, Guigui sees… nothing? An opportunity for drama? A chance to turn 9/11 into an Irwin Allen epic on a shoestring budget? This is a film with absolutely no soul, which only serves to make it feel that much more inappropriate.
The very existence of this film baffles me. The fact that a 9/11 film starring Charlie Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg managed to hit theaters the week of September 11th without so much as a hint of press coverage or advertisement doubles my bewilderment. And the fatalistic tone, the cheap production, and mawkish performances don’t help matters either. It all adds up to a film with no conceivable reason for existing other than to remind you about 9/11. Y’know, in case you forgot.Liked This? Share It!