Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: "Tower Heist" Captures Classic Eddie Murphy

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 92 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Tower Heist (2011)
Running time: 104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for language and sexual content
DIRECTOR: Brett Ratner
WRITERS: Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson; from a story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, and Ted Griffin
PRODUCERS: Brian Grazer, Eddie Murphy, and Kim Roth
EDITOR: Mark Helfrich
COMPOSER: Christophe Beck

COMEDY/CRIME with elements of a thriller

Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Stephen Henderson, Judd Hirsch, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, Nina Arianda, Marcia Jean Kurtz, and Juan Carlos Hernandez

Tower Heist is a 2011 crime comedy from director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour franchise). The film follows the misadventures of a gang of working stiffs who plot to rob a Wall Street tycoon who stole their pensions. Tower Heist is a comic caper that lives up to the comedy part, and the film’s actors deliver on their characters, especially Eddie Murphy who returns to the kind of character that made him popular in the 1980s.

Tower Heist focuses on Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), the building manager of The Tower, a high-rise luxury apartment complex in New York City’s Columbus Circle (Manhattan). The residents are wealthy and are used to being catered to, and the building’s security is no joke. Still, Josh has everything under control until the Tower’s most noteworthy tenant, wealthy businessman, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), is arrested by the FBI for running a Ponzi scheme. It was Kovacs who suggested that Shaw invest the Tower employees’ pension fund, and now that money is also apparently gone.

When FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) tells him that Shaw may get away with his crimes, Josh decides to get revenge on Shaw by breaking into his apartment to steal from him. He gathers fellow coworkers: his brother-in-law, Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck); a bankrupt Wall Street investor, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick); bellhop Enrique Dev’reaux (Michael Peña), and Jamaican-born maid, Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe) as his crew. Josh knows, however, that his crew needs a real criminal, so he recruits his neighbor, a petty crook named Slide (Eddie Murphy), to assist them in the robbery. But as determined as they are, things keep getting in their way.

Tower Heist is not really a heist film like the edgier The Italian Job (either version) or the cool and clever Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels. Tower Heist is comic fluff – successful comic fluff, but still fluff, and its concepts, ideas, and set pieces are utter fantasy. Things happen in this movie that are so unbelievable that they are often funny; it’s ridiculous stuff, but quite amusing.

The real treasures in Tower Heist are the actors and their characters. The story that is Tower Heist is Josh Kovacs’ story, and Ben Stiller, who has been a successful leading man in big screen comedies for well over a decade, is funny. However, Stiller gives the film a surprising dramatic heft by giving Kovacs a dark and melancholy side that simmers right alongside this movie’s humor – even if many viewers may not see it.

Eddie Murphy, in his role as Slide, has done what many critics (and some fans) have been demanding for over two decades – return to playing the wiseass who makes being rude, confrontational, and streetwise a gold standard. This kind of character, in one form or another, appeared in early Murphy films like 48 Hrs., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop and at various time during Murphy’s tenure on “Saturday Night Live” (1980-84), yet in this film, that kind of character still seems fresh. The reason for this may be that Murphy plays Slide as a genuine criminal, a confrontational person who may appear comical, but who is actually an opportunistic career criminal and felon that is dangerous and untrustworthy. Slide is a real hood rat and is good for the film’s conflict and tension. He makes you believe that this heist has a better than 50% chance of going really bad.

There are other good supporting performances: Téa Leoni (who should have had a larger role), Matthew Broderick, and Alan Alda (who makes Arthur Shaw seem like a really nasty piece of work). I’ll also give credit for Tower Heist’s success as a comedy to both director Brett Ratner and editor Mark Helfrich. Ratner allows the actors room to play their characters for strong (if not maximum) effect. Helfrich composes a film that makes sure the comic moments are really funny and turns the heist sequence into a surprising thriller. I’d like to be a snob about this sometimes shallow and fluffy movie, but I really enjoyed Tower Heist. So why front?

7 of 10

Sunday, November 06, 2011

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