March 3, 2024


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Kevin Hart's 'Lift' shows how Netflix's algorithm brought a 'B movie' to life

Kevin Hart's 'Lift' shows how Netflix's algorithm brought a 'B movie' to life


Kevin Hart's new film “Lift” is as good as it is, featuring a heist designed for light-hearted escapism. However, it's also a prime example of the Netflix algorithm in action: using data to determine what subscribers like, then feeding that demand, with content almost secondary to the boxes these projects check.

Do you like Adam Sandler? Jamie Foxx? Ryan Reynolds? Hart? So not only will Netflix have a series or movie you might like, but it also has another series or movie ready to stream right after if you happen to like the first one.

For the talent, the arrangement comes with what seems like an enormous amount of freedom, including the opportunity to stretch their muscles in different roles and genres (see “Lift,” a very straightforward adventure film, or the dramatic role played by Hart in the Netflix series “True story”). Less ambitiously, some have used the field to work with family members, starting with Fox and her daughter Corinne on the sitcom. “Daddy, stop embarrassing me!” Sandler and his entire family are in the tournament “You're not invited to my coming-of-age party.”

However, “Lift” and many of these star-driven productions, for the most part, have the lighthearted air of what were called “B movies,” in the day when Hollywood needed a second title to accompany a more popular film. So theaters can offer double features.

B movies haven't served this function since television began coming of age, but the concept of projects relying primarily on larger fare has carried over to streaming. Although “Lift” doesn't fit one aspect of the “B movie” description — as it's typically shot on a low budget — it essentially serves the same purpose, capitalizing on other Kevin Hart elements, so if you like “Jumanji,” “The reboot or its specials, there's this movie too.

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as The Wall Street Journal reported In July, Netflix's data analysis, based on its proprietary technology, is “key to the company's success,” as it guides decision-making on “what shows and movies to produce, whether to renew them, and whether to share them with anyone else.” Views through the company's famous recommendation algorithms.

Christopher Barr/Netflix

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Kevin Hart in the Netflix movie “Lift.”

The potential downside for consumers is when projects arrive with a whiff of life thanks to that rather crude commercial formula, rather than any whiff of real inspiration.

After Sandler's multi-film deal, Hart signed a contract Four-movie agreement with Netflix in 2021, after topping the specials chart the previous year. Later that year, he starred in and produced True Story, a dark drama about a famous comedian who is drawn into an escalating series of fatal choices.

“Lift” also represents a modest extension for Hart, albeit in a safe and modest package. He plays a thief working with an international team of accomplices, teamed up with an Interpol agent (Gugu Mbatha-Raw's “Loki's”) after he's recruited by the authorities to rob a plane carrying $500 million worth of gold belonging to a really bad criminal.

The idea of ​​the government using the services of a notorious thief vaguely mimics the 1960s TV show “It Takes a Thief,” though like the “B movie” tag, “Lift” dresses up in all sorts of modern, high-tech gadgets.

In theory, unleashing talented people provides the opportunity for risk-taking and creativity, and there was some of that in this context. Often, though, a talent like Sandler (see “Murder mystery” and its sequel) or Reynolds (“Project Adam”) was content to feed the beast predictably within his comfort zones.

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In short, Netflix's star-based approach has produced a few good films and a lot of forgettable ones. But for the streaming service, the strategy remains clear: If you like the names above, we've got you covered.

For Netflix, and other services that emulate it, the modern B movie seems to be paying off. For viewers, the track record seems mixed, with the admission that if you don't like “Lift” but like Kevin Hart overall, you're one click away from something you might like.

“Lift” will premiere on January 12 on Netflix. Rated PG-13.