Friday, November 04, 2011
TOWER HEIST (Dir. Brett Ratner, 2011)
This began life as a notion Eddie Murphy had for a “black OCEAN’S 11’” but they threw some money at it and made it into a concept, and then later turned it into an idea.
That idea is a Ben Stiller movie with Murphy as a supporting player, ganging up with Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe (PRECIOUS), Michael Peña, and Casey Affleck to rob a billionaire (Alan Alda) who stole their pensions.
Unfortunately, even with that incredibly capable cast and that promising premise, TOWER HEIST is a half baked comic crime caper that comes close to bringing big laughs, but never quite delivers.
There are a fair amount of small laughs throughout the film, and I caught myself smiling at the shenanigans onscreen a few times, but the all-too-familiar construction of the material kept holding back the funny.
The first half is all set-up with Stiller as the by-the-book building manager of a luxurious Manhattan high rise (obviously modeled on the Trump Tower) realizing how evil Alda is after the Ponzi scheming penthouse owner is charged with financial fraud.
With the help of small-time crook Murphy, Stiller enlists his co-worker co-horts (Sidibe, Peña, and Affleck) and Broderick, as a down on his luck Wall Street broker just evicted from his tower apartment, to pull off a big-time job – stealing 20 million from Alda’s penthouse safe.
The film has been touted as a comeback for Murphy, and while there’s an undeniable charge to seeing him again assume the foul mouthed quick tempered persona that he had abandoned for family fare over a decade ago, too many scenes have no payoffs.
In one scene in which Murphy is training the crew to be thieves he gives them bobby pins and locks them on a building’s roof in the extreme cold. Once Murphy says his lines (like “here’s your punk ass bobby pin”) and leaves, the scene is over – we don’t get seeing the guys attempting to pick the lock because I think screenwriters Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson couldn’t come up with anything funny there and thought Murphy’s shtick would be enough.
This is a method they seem to employ throughout: let’s just get these guys bickering in set piece after set piece and people will be laughing so hard they won’t notice the predictable plot mechanics.
Director Ratner doesn’t provide a strong enough balance between laughs and thrills to make TOWER HEIST anything special - at its best it’s likably perfunctory. I also could’ve done without the Téa Leoni as an FBI agent who is on to both good guy Stiller and bad guy Alda subplot, but usually I can do without Téa Leoni so there’s that.
Like I said, I did lightly laugh here and there (not just at Murphy as Broderick, Sidibe and Peña also have their moments), and I felt a little excitement during a scene involving Alda’s Ferrarri (allegedly once owned by Steve McQueen) being dangled from a cable from the top of the tower, but with its many plot-holes and lack of payoffs this is nowhere close to how good it could’ve been.
Here’s hoping Murphy’s newly proposed project that remolds his original black ensemble comedy notion into something titled JAMAL AND TYRELL AND OMAR AND BRICK AND MICHAEL'S WACK-ASS WEEKEND gets a lot further past the idea stage.