Do Forget: 9/11

If you want to understand how a useless grab bag of tropes before a backdrop of
crumbling Twin Towers got made, look no further than
9/11 director Martin Guigui’s description as to why
infamous 9/11 truther Charlie Sheen
decided to star in the movie. To The Hollywood
Reporter
, Guigui said:

“He made it clear to me that there’s a time for everything
and that presently his thoughts and feelings about 9/11 are
that it was a horrible tragedy,” says Guigui, when asked if
he had apprehension casting Sheen, knowing his comments on
the project. “More than anything he wanted to make the movie
because he thought this was a legacy piece, something that he
would love to be remembered by.”

Sheen corroborated where his head is at in his own interview with
THR
:

“I have to have faith that I will do something again someday
where they will love me. But if not, it is really more of a
reflection of who they are. It has nothing to [do] with me.”

Pure ego. It’s pure ego that got Sheen to enter that set
elevator with four other actors, and it’s pure ego that kept
him there for the two-week shoot, his character making small
talk and pseudo-philosophizing about class and race until the
smoke starts to pour in and the cables start to snap and the
movie plummets to climax, setting its pulse to the events of a
worldwide tragedy. Relying on Today show footage of
the planes hitting the buildings, the smoke billowing out, and
the inevitable collapse of the South Tower, 9/11
teaches you nothing you didn’t already know—other than just how
craven human beings can be in their willingness to exploit a
large-scale terrorist attack for profit and accolades. It feels
like Guigui and company thought they were making Oscar bait,
but their results have the intellectual depth of chum.

If you saw the trailer that was released in July, you
already have the gist of 9/11—five people enter a North Tower
elevator and within seconds the first plane hits. They are
billionaire Jeffrey Cage (Sheen), his estranged wife Eve (Gina
Gershon, whose perma-pout is about the most realistic thing
here given that she’s in the middle of a tragedy), bike
messenger Michael (Wood Harris), sugar baby Tina (Olga Fonda),
and World Trade Center janitor Eddie (Luis Guzmán). We’re given
less than 10 minutes of back story on each (it’s Michael’s
daughter’s birthday, Eve and Jeffrey are about to sign their
divorce papers, Eddie likes the Yankees, Tina owns a pug)
before the first plane hits and less than 10 minutes after,
they’re already guessing that the reason their elevator has
stopped is because of a terrorist attack. Smart crew.

Then they get their confirmation via elevator monitor Metzie
(Whoopi Goldberg in a wig so ill-fitting it’s actually just a
hat): “Baby, you’re not gonna believe this: Some fool hit the
tower with like a little propeller plane or something!” The
sideways, tsking manner in which Goldberg regards all of the
day’s events is generally something in the realm of: “Western
Civilization, you in danger, girl.”

Before their characters attempt various ways to escape the
elevator, screenwriters Guigui and Steven James Golebiowski
have their multicultural gang engaged in some conversations
that are boring at best and infuriating at worst. Olga openly
hopes that her sugar daddy, whom she feels owned by, has
already died in the attack. I guess there’s a bright side to
every situation? Michael, who’s black, tells the story of a
recent accident he got in with a taxi whose driver he assumes
was Pakistani— though after being interrogated by his fellow
captives, it turns out this is just an assumption and many
express some sort of exasperation before changing the subject.
So… don’t assume… that ever. Got that, everyone? When
Michael suggests that whiteness helped Jeffrey become the
billionaire that he is—a fair assumption since what Jeffrey
does, besides working on Wall Street (get it?), is never quite spelled
out—Eve delivers an impassioned, frankly flabbergasting speech
that seems intended to take down the concept of attributing
success to privilege:

You know, for your information, this guy doesn’t come from
money. This guy worked in a factory. His mom died when he was
12. He went to a public school. And when he barely graduated,
he went to work alongside his father and all of his brothers.
And that was it. That was decided. That’s as far as this guy
was gonna go. But you know what he did? He refused to accept
that story because he imagined something bigger for himself.
So at 18 years old with $60 in his pocket, he hopped on a bus
to New York City. And that’s where (Jeffrey interjects
here: “I met you.”
)—Yes, that’s where you met me. So
Michael, you can be mad at everything you don’t have or
envious of people who have way more than they need, but you
have no idea what people go through to get where they are.

Ladies and gentlemen, Gina Gershon, with the final word on
white privilege.

The acting is, for the most part, surprisingly not awful but
there, too, 9/11 fails. Instead of turning out some
so-bad-it’s-good trash that creates a delicious internal
conflict to sink your teeth into—Which is worse: the movie
for being so reckless with 9/11 or me for effectively laughing
at this funhouse mirror of 9/11?
—it kind of just sits
there, like something resigned to die and be forgotten. Even
the heightened emotions feel mostly forgivable (no amount of
onscreen melodrama could possibly convey the tragedy of 9/11),
though the final scene (I assume you’re not going to see this
and so I’m not spoiling anything) of a smartly dressed Gina
Gershon stumbling around the dusty, rapidly decaying lobby of
the WTC after being the sole inhabitant to escape the elevator
before it plunged seems calculated to make lovers of the
extreme cackle. And then, when she flags down a fireman and
tells him four people are still stuck in an elevator (that she
magically knows is on the lobby level) and he pries open the
doors of one containing someone she doesn’t know, she
screeches, “It’s the wrong elevator!!!” That I did laugh at.
You’d think that Gershon’s character would be the first one to
realize that all lives matter, after that privilege
speech.

After fading to black on the image of a firefighter’s hand from
above wrapped around that of the final person who’s still stuck
in the elevator (I won’t reveal who it is, but you can guess,
oh fine, it’s Charlie Sheen), a message appears onscreen,
dedicating this movie to the first responders and victims of
the terrorist attacks. Yeah right. “Never forget,” it
concludes. I won’t, 9/11, but you’ve done your
damnedest to make me want to.

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