On New Year ’s Eve, blind photo journalist Sara (Michelle Monaghan) finds her New York penthouse apartment turned into a private hell when she is stalked by a sadistic criminal intent on finding a hidden fortune. Directed by Joseph Ruben (The Forgotten) and written by David Loughery (Lakeview Terrace) Penthouse North understands the basic mechanics of the thriller and passes as a throw-away kind of feature, but overall there isn’t enough going on to send you away wowed.
Monaghan gives a good performance but the script doesn’t exactly allow her much room to really grapple with her character in an intriguing way. Strange attempts at backstory see Michelle Monaghan blinded in Afghanistan, whilst random and seemingly pointless moments of “character development” fail to interest. The same can be said for Barry Sloane’s intimidating but ultimately third-wheel turn as Chad the sadistic burglar. For 45 minutes or so the two do their best to keep the film afloat until a frustrated phone call has Keaton’s smooth king-criminal on-route to save the film. The timing is symbolic: as the film starts to prove it doesn’t have the stamina to pull off a truly exhilarating cat and mouse ordeal, Exec producer Keaton steps in to liven the mood and lend his extensive experience. Make no mistake, Penthouse North wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining without Keaton’s input; the veteran oddball exudes charm, leapfrogging the script to steal the show and give a surprising amount of clarity and direction to an otherwise loose cannon of a thriller.
As a thrill ride the film actually sweeps you up, the pace and action all ensure that the ninety minute run-time doesn’t exactly drag, but Penthouse’s own inability to create consistently involving scenarios leaves Sara and Chad bumbling around the apartment with little idea of why either are really there.
Even though Keaton, Monaghan, and Sloane charge the finale with desperate energy ensuring the film ends on a good note, the end reveal seems a footnote rather than a climax, the action often fizzles out with little emotional involvement, and the near-gimmicky turn of narrative event reduces the feature to an elongated episode of something daft. Again and again the film appears to be a selection of parts as opposed to one consistent feature film.
Coherent and enjoyable enough for one viewing Penthouse North is a bland kind of thriller, consistently replicating other features rather than embracing a truly original story. Keaton ensures the second half of the film glides along smoothly, stealing the show with perfect comic timing and a conversational kind of villainy only the great are gifted with.
Dir. Joseph Ruben
Stars. Michelle Monaghan, Michael Keaton, Barry Sloane, Andrew W. Walker, Kaniehtiio Horn