If it were a standard thriller set on any other day in any other building, the film “9/11” would be laughable. Lame characterization, painful overacting and clunky lines would happen, but it wouldn’t cause any reactions beyond giggles and eye rolls. Making a film about an event that is still so fresh in American minds requires a subtle touch, but director Martin Guigui is picking at a still-healing wound with an ax.
Based on Patrick Carson’s play “Elevator,” “9/11” largely takes place in one of the elevators in the World Trade Center’s North Tower on that fateful day in 2001. Five people are trapped inside: billionaire Jeffrey Cage (Charlie Sheen), his soon-to-be ex-wife Eve (Gina Gershon), custodial engineer Eddie (Luis Guzman), bike messenger Michael (Wood Harris) and a trophy wife named Tina (Olga Fonda). Their only contact with the outside world is through Metzie (Whoopi Goldberg), the elevator operator who speaks to them over the intercom as they try to escape.
“9/11” is (thankfully) only 90 minutes long, but it chooses to spend some of that time with a character spewing racist dialogue and a billionaire’s wife lecturing a bike messenger on the value of hard work. These tone-deaf scenes exist within a larger film that doesn’t know how to gracefully handle an awful historical event. “9/11” trades on the emotional weight of its namesake day, manipulating audiences into feelings that have nothing to do with the mess that is actually on screen.
Rating: R, for language
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: In general release