Tower Heist


Tower Heist

Ben Stiller brings up the Nutty Professor movies even though it's in Eddie Murphy's contract that nobody mentions them.

(2011) Caper Comedy (Universal) Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, Michael Pena, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Zeljko Ivanek, Peter Van Wagner. Directed by Brett Ratner

It goes without saying that the new villains in the movies, reflecting our perilous economic times, are financiers. Most of us hold them responsible to a large degree for the woes we find ourselves in. Wall street is the new mad scientist.

Josh Kovacs (Stiller) works as the building manager for one of the most exclusive residences in Manhattan and thus one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world. It is the home of the hoi polloi, the high and mighty – the movers and shakers of New York. He heads a staff that is renowned for their attentiveness and attention to detail.

Among the residents in the building one of the most famous is Arthur Shaw (Alda), a man who has managed the portfolios of nations. He is one of the world’s most respected financial minds, someone who understands the markets better than anyone alive. When doorman Lester (Henderson) opens the door for him, there’s just a little bit more deferential treatment for Mr. Shaw who is as down to earth as they come – playing online chess with Josh, who went to the same public school in Astoria that Shaw did.

A sharp-eyed Josh notices, while in security chief Manuel’s (Hernandez) office what appears to be a kidnap attempt on Mr. Shaw. He makes a heroic effort to rescue him only to be clotheslined by an attractive woman, who turns out to be FBI agent Claire Denham (Leoni). It also turns out that the kidnapping is actually Shaw trying to escape arrest. It turns out that Shaw has swindled all of his clients out of the money they gave him to invest and that money is all gone. It turns out that Josh had given the employees of the Tower’s pension fund over to Shaw to manage and that money is all gone too.

This is devastating for some. Charlie (Affleck) the concierge is about to have a baby. Miss Iovenko (Arianda) is studying to pass the bar. Enrique (Pena) just started working there. But it is most devastating for Lester, who was about ready to retire and also had given his life savings – about $70K – to Mr. Shaw to invest and was left with nothing, meaning retirement wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Disconsolate, he attempts to walk out in front of a train and is saved by off-duty police officers.

Josh doesn’t want to believe that his friend Mr. Shaw is a crook, but when he visits him to tell the house-arrested Shaw what has befallen Lester, it becomes clear that Shaw’s friendly man-of-the-people front was a facade. It also becomes just as clear that the money that the employees of the Tower have all been counting on is gone forever. However, Agent Denham lets slip that guys like Shaw always have a cash safety net available for emergencies and that they haven’t found Shaw’s yet. Maybe Josh can steal back what was stolen from he and his associates.

However, Josh isn’t a thief, as Charlie correctly points out. However, Josh knows someone who is – streetwise Slide (Murphy), a career criminal who lives down the street from Josh. Add the recently evicted Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick) and Jamaican maid (and daughter of a safecracker) Odessa (Sidibe) and you’ve got yourself a gang. However can these amateurs make their way past the most sophisticated security system in New York and the ever-watchful eye of the FBI to get themselves a little payback?

It will probably not surprise anyone who sees this movie to know that it shares a writer with the Oceans 11 series. It has that element of camaraderie among thieves, the same kind of snappy dialogue. It does have some star power but after Stiller and Murphy it falls off somewhat, although there are some pretty good performances here.

The main one is Murphy, who after decades of doing forgettable family comedies finally goes back to the kind of role that made him a star, one that channels Axel Foley, Billy Ray Valentine and Reggie Hammond. This is not quite up to those standards, but it is his best role in years. He nails it as well, giving it that fast-talking con-artist veneer as well as that kind of bad boy ladies man that Murphy perfected 20 years ago and that comedians like Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and Chris Tucker have all been channeling since then.

Alda, who was playing Hawkeye Pierce in “MASH” at about the same time plays maybe the nastiest villain of his career. Shaw is an arrogant, smug bastard who while obviously modeled on Bernie Madoff has a little bit of Leona Helmsley thrown in for good measure. It’s a delicious role and should go down as one of the most memorable movie villains of 2011.

Stiller is a bit of a cipher. He is likable enough but I think that the part would have been better with someone for whom larcenous behavior might have been more easily acceptable. Stiller seems better suited for characters who need less charisma.

Ratner excels in making mindless entertainment pieces and he does so here. There’s nothing much to think about and veteran moviegoers are for sure going to be able to figure out important plot twists (such as where Shaw’s money is actually hidden) well before the reveals. However, the cast is enormously appealing (the sight of Broderick reaching out of an open window to pull in their loot but afraid to move is one of the better moments in the movie) and the plot easy enough to follow. Don’t try to think too much about some of the plot holes and you’ll find this a pleasant enough movie, not a game changer by any means but a solidly entertaining diversion. Some critics will make it seem like that’s a failure but for my money that’s a big win for the audience.

REASONS TO GO: Fine entertainment. Eddie Murphy returns to form and Alda is a fine villain.

REASONS TO STAY: A little too predictable in the plot points. Nothing really new here.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of foul language and a smidge of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Trump Tower in Manhattan was used as the stand-in for the Tower in the film.

HOME OR THEATER: The New York City vistas and the parade segment should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Due Date

The Other Guys


The Other Guys

Ferrell, Coogan and Wahlberg finally figure out they should have read the script before signing to do the movie.

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Derek Jeter, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Bobby Cannavale, Natalie Zea, Brett Gelman, Anne Heche, Ice-T (voice). Directed by Adam McKay

There are heroes, men who put themselves on the line for justice and to protect those that they serve. Then again there are the other guys.

Christopher Danson (Johnson) and P.K. Highsmith (Jackson) are the former; Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are the latter. Danson and Highsmith chase through the city after bad guys, taking them down in a blaze of glory; Gamble and Hoitz do the paperwork.

For Gamble, that’s perfectly acceptable. He lives to do paperwork and began his career in Forensic Accounting, the guys who chase the paper trail. Hoitz is a different matter. He was exiled to this team after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter during the 2003 World Series, leading to a Yankee loss. New Yorkers still hate him for that.

When Danson and Highsmith are taken out of the equation, some other team has to step in to fill the void. The initial favorites are Martin (Riggle) and Fosse (Wayans), a pair of less-than-sweet-natured rivals who delight in putting down Gamble and Hoitz. Hoitz sees this as their chance to escape the doldrums of the station – Gamble refuses to leave the station to do field work until Hoitz puts a gun to his head, quite literally.

Gamble thinks he’s found the case to break the team out; a series of building permit violations linked to a smarmy Wall Street financier named Ershon (Coogan). However, their attempted arrest of the financier brings out an Australian special forces turned Security detail chief (Stevenson) who sets off Hoitz’ cop spider sense.

The two become embroiled in a financial scheme that threatens to bring down New York City; the trouble is, nobody believes these perpetual screw-ups. So it is up to them to prove their case and save the day.

Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have combined on two of Ferrell’s best movies – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Perhaps this one needed a subtitle like The Other Guys: The Station Pop of Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz or some such. That might have brought needed luck to this movie.

Quite frankly, this is one of those movies that set my teeth on edge. It’s the type of humor that thinks it’s funny to re-do the same non-sequitir over and over again; the more you repeat it, the funnier it is. In point of fact, the more you repeat it, the more obnoxious it is. For example, Michael Keaton’s long-suffering Captain Mauch has a tendency to recite lines from TLC songs and then deny that he’s doing it. It wasn’t funny the first time guys…by the fifth or sixth time they do it, I’m ready to take a chainsaw to the midsection of the writers.

There are some funny moments to be sure – Ferrell and Wahlberg are far too talented to make this irredeemable. I do like the bits where Ferrell keeps on referring to his wife Sheila (Mendes) as “plain.” Everyone who’s ever seen the woman knows she’s anything but, so that’s a non-sequitir that actually works. There’s also a scene involving Highsmith and Danson – you’ll know which one it is because it takes place at the conclusion of a jewelry robbery – that comes out of left field and actually had me roaring with laughter (ghoulish as it may have been). More stuff like this and I’d have this movie up there with The Hangover.

Unfortunately, most of the best moments are in the trailer. For reasons I cannot fathom, critics really like this movie, comparing it favorably to Kevin Smith’s similarly-themed Cop Out from earlier this year. I haven’t seen that one yet so I can’t comment on the validity of the comparisons, but I think it’s just that there has been such a dearth of genuinely good comedies this summer that critics are seizing on what is patently a mediocre movie at best and latching onto it like a life preserver during the Perfect Storm.

In a weird twist, the end credits run over a series of graphics illustrating economic facts about CEOs, ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff and 401Ks, which looks like a very different movie – and one I probably would have liked better. It leads into an extra scene at the film’s conclusion, which shows a valiant attempt by Wahlberg to tell a joke. Outtakes can be fun after all.

I suppose it’s possible that I’m a mutant that just doesn’t get this movie, but it left me completely flat and that wasn’t the case in the movies I mentioned earlier, which I thought were some of the funniest movies of the past ten years. Surrealism isn’t necessarily comedy, a truism that even Salvador Dali understood. Apparently, McKay, Ferrell and Wahlberg don’t.

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Most of the funny moments are in the trailer. The movie tends to ram its jokes down your throat over and over again.  

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of action movie violence, sexual situations and salty language so younger kids are out.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Michael Keaton character Gene Mauch was named for the manager of the California Angels back in the 1980s; Ferrell is apparently a huge Angels fan.

HOME OR THEATER: If you must see it, see it at home.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Oh in Ohio