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Too cold, too hot, too bright, or too dark to go outside? Still recovering from holiday excess? A throwaway heist movie—undemanding when it comes to brain power and requiring a minimal time investment—is the ultimate low-key early-new-year pleasure. Lift, on Netflix, directed by F. Gary Gray and starring Kevin Hart and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is just that movie. The absurdity of its plot isn’t beside the point; it is the point. This is essentially a delivery vehicle for attractive performers and glamorous settings (including Venice, London and a verdant Northern Ireland), tailored to fit a small screen and lowish expectations. You can’t ask for more from a winter diversion—even if you wouldn’t wish for less.

Hart’s Cyrus is an ace international art thief who, with his crackerjack team of accomplices, has just pulled some fancy footwork, boosting a seemingly unboostable NFT. But almost before they can rush off with their invisible spoils, they’re apprehended by Mbatha-Raw’s Abby, an Interpol agent working the art-theft beat. There’s an additional complication in that Abby and Cyrus have a shaky romantic past—at one point these two enjoyed an ill-advised Paris fling while working under false identities. But Abby now needs Cyrus for professional reasons. An evil mastermind (played by a sleepily malevolent, lizard-eyed Jean Reno) is about to hatch a nefarious plot that involves transferring a kajillion dollars’ worth of gold bricks to an ace hacker, who will then wreak terror upon unsuspecting citizens. Instead of arresting Cyrus, Abby makes him an offer he can’t afford to refuse: he and his crew will go free if they can use their thievery skills to intercept that gold. The hitch is that they’ve got to steal it from the passenger plane on which it’s being transported—not on the ground, but at 40,000 feet.

Mbatha-Raw and Hart, from frenemies to collaboratorsCourtesy of Netflix

Sound dumb, not to mention aeronautically implausible? You bet. But Gray, working from a script by Daniel Kunka, knows just how much he can get away with. Gray is a smart, versatile director: his 2003 version of The Italian Job (also set and shot partly in Venice), was less a remake of the much-loved 1969 original than a jaunty reimagining; it had a joyful, adventurous spirit. He also knows his way around a biopic: his 2015 Straight Outta Compton dramatized the emergence and the shattering of N.W.A. in a way that felt bracing and vital.

Lift is more modestly scaled than either of those films; even its grand action sequences feel a little restrained. The plot involves the heistmasters’ flying a smaller jet directly beneath the larger one carrying the precious cargo—it has first been covered with panels of something-or-other as a means of evading radar detection. The safecracking, and thus the procurement of the gold, must occur when the second jet has reached a precise position in the air—at this point, the message “Ready to link” flashes helpfully on the plane’s control panel. This is useful information, in case you, dear viewer at home, have no idea what’s going on, which is likely.

Does the heist go off exactly as planned? Of course not, because the mishaps along the way are part of the game. In this context, even Hart, a gregarious performer if ever there were one, almost comes off as muted—almost. This is an unusual role for him. Rather than playing a regular guy, as he so often does, he’s a suave crook with certain principles. He loves art, and sees his job as a civic responsibility: “We rescue works of art from undeserving owners,” he tells Abby earnestly, so earnestly that she almost seems to buy it.

Cyrus’s team of adept accomplices, devoted both to their jobs and to him, include an elegant pilot with nerves of titanium (Úrsula Corberó), an enthusiastic frat boy of a safecracker (Billy Magnussen), a brainy but shy engineer (Viveik Kalra) and a tech whiz who’s unruffled by the glitchiest glitches (Yun Jee Kim). There’s also a dubiously skilled master of disguise played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Lift isn’t exactly a showcase for actors, but both D’Onofrio and Mbatha-Raw—marvelous performers who have proven the subtlety of their skills time and again over the years—acknowledge the spirit of this project and bring their best to it.

Vincent D’Onofrio, a master of disguiseCourtesy of Netflix

Mbatha-Raw, cast in the role of the authority figure—that is, the stick in the mud—maintains both her dignity and her charm throughout the proceedings. And D’Onofrio seems to be having a great time. His character, Denton, at one point poses as a regular-dude plane passenger unable to work the entertainment system; he politely asks the attendant for help, and she happily assists, not realizing, of course, that her attention is being diverted from something Denton doesn’t want her to see. After she’s showed him how the buttons work, he thanks her profusely. He’s now able to experience one of the wonders of commercial air travel: “This is wonderful! I think I’ll watch me a movie or somethin’.” His delight feels 100 percent genuine. Now that’s acting.

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