Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tower Heist - 2011

"Tower Heist" - 2011
Dir. by Brett Ratner - 1 hr. 44 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I wish I could get over this, but I do hold it against a film when it's advertised as something a bit different than what it actually is.  Part of the issue with "Tower Heist" is the cast; when you have something that stars Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, there's going to be an expectation that you probably have a comedy on your hands.  That's not to say that either actor hasn't done dramatic work, but when the trailer cherry-picks the movies for the few jokes present, that's a promise that the full film can't deliver.  "Tower Heist" isn't a comedy.  It's not really a drama, either.  It's not really a good movie.  It's not a terrible movie, either.  It just sort of exists.

In a building called "The Tower," which is purported to be the most expensive real estate in the world, Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) runs the support staff, which is the real draw of the building.  They exist to make everyone's life run smoothly, and do so very well.  One of the tenants, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is an investment banker on Wall Street, and runs afoul of the law.  Coincidentally, part of Shaw's Ponzi Scheme involved The Tower's staff pension fund, which has now been wiped out.  After Josh and a pair of co-workers get fired after confronting Shaw, the idea of stealing Shaw's as-yet-unlocated rainy day fund is drunkenly put in Josh's head by the FBI Agent in charge of the Shaw case, Special Agent Clair Denham (Tea Leoni).

So when I say "Tower Heist" isn't a comedy, I mean to say that it's not particularly funny.  There are a few decent exchanges, but Stiller's character is the main one, and he's a very earnest, straight-forward character (and even that trait isn't ever really put on blast).  If you put Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller (and Tea Leoni, and Casey Affleck, and Michael Pena, and Matthew Broderick, and Alan Alda) on the screen in various configurations, there's going to be a few moments here and there, but the story is more of a timely, socially-conscious Robin Hood tale than anything else.  I can see the thinking behind this film - it's like trying to set up a situation where you could morally justify pulling an "Ocean's Eleven."  You've got the same colorful variety of characters (well, not the same exactly, but I think you know what I'm getting at), the "impossible" heist, a burgeoning love story, a ritzy setting.  But if you sat down and watched Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" and Brett Ratner's "Tower Heist" back-to-back, you'd see exactly what the difference in the two men are as filmmakers.

That comparison is going to be a rough one for Ratner, but he's not without skill as a filmmaker.   For as much as I felt like the plot (and characters, for that matter) weren't fleshed out as much as I would have preferred, Ratner will give you a smooth ride.  He's proven that over and over again, that he can make a big Hollywood action comedy movie, and even if you're not blown away by it, you're not going to be shifting in your seat and checking your watch.  Enough things happen with enough regularity that there aren't dead spots or lulls, it's more that all of it doesn't add up to much.  It never feels like any of the characters hit a real low (at least in the sort of way that you, as an audience member, would feel - it all feels like shorthand for bad times).  Even when one of the characters attempts suicide over having his retirement wiped out, it's skirted around, and when you see him in a hospital bed afterwards, he's not messed up at all.  He may as well have been taking a nap.  And since Ratner never really gets across the low times with any conviction, whatever successes occur don't resonate as hard-earned victories, either.  And beyond that, not getting an audience to feel anything real in the first place makes the logic behind suddenly deciding to steal TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS flimsy.  These are basic storytelling flaws, but it also fits with Brett Ratner's career.  Never too high, never too low, just a smooth ride.

Most of what's good comes from the cast of "Tower Heist."  Stiller and Tea Leoni have an easy, brusque chemistry that makes me wish this film had been a romance comedy between these two characters, with the big heist in the background.  Everyone who had more than a line or two made the most of them.  It just didn't matter a whole lot.  By the time we got to the actual heist, I wasn't really rooting for anyone, I was just hoping that something funny might happen.  The idea of pulling something over on one of the Wall Street jackasses is one that's ripe with potential, very little of that potential is on display in "Tower Heist."  But Heavy D did have a "blink and you'll miss it" role, and I was pretty happy about that.

1.5 / 5 - TV (HD)

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