Tower Heist (2011)

Brett Ratner. There’s two words to strike fear in the heart of many a movie-goer. If it’s not his racially dubious Rush Hour franchise, then it was singlehandedly stamping on the kitten faced joy that was X-Men franchise. But hey, he gave us Kite: The Remix… Right? Am I right? Who’s with me?

Ahem.

So, what has Ratner got in store for us with the Eddie Muphy produced Tower Heist? A film that was originally based on an idea by Eddie Murphy and stars Eddie Murphy. Well, a film with little Eddie Murphy in it for a start.

Ben Stiller is Josh Kovacs, the building manager for a luxury apartment block in New York, owned by millionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). When Shaw is arrested for stealing his employees’ pensions, Kovacs vows to steal back the money which may or may not be holed up in a secret safe in Shaw’s apartment. To perform this mission impossible, Kovacs assembles a crack team of stars from other films, including psychotic woman beater (Casey Affleck), Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), Donkey from Shrek (Eddie Murphy), and an Oscar nominated actress with a really bad Jamaican accent (Gabourey Sidibe).

With a mixed bag of characters and an against the odds heist, it’s very easy to compare Tower Heist with Ocean’s 11. Especially when you take into account that the screenplay was co-written by Ted Griffin; the man who gave us Clooney’s smirk-fest back in 2001. Well, we can clear this all up now by pointing out the two very obvious differences:

1) There aren’t 11 of them

2) No one has the surname Ocean.

In all honesty, Tower Heist is the anti-Ocean’s. There’s very little style or pazazz coming from the characters or Ratner’s rather pedestrian direction. For the first third of the film everything feels stale, jokes fall flat and there are more Chekov’s guns than a NRA rally. In fact, we’d go so far as to say it all feels like, well, a kitchen sink drama. Stiller has a crappy job, Sidibe is facing deportation, Affleck is expecting a child he can’t afford to raise and someone tries to commit suicide. All within 30 minutes no less. Throw in the brutal assault of a dog and this could be the American Tyrannosaur.

So, what saves it? Well, surprisingly, Eddie Murphy.

Yes, Eddie ‘Tell Mel B, I’m not at home’ Murphy. As soon as Murphy graces our screen with a mixture of Axl Foley and Reggie Hammond, the world just seems that little bit brighter. Whether it’s because he’s viciously mocking Stiller’s childhood asthma (‘Seizure boy!’) or locking Affleck and co out on the roof in the rain to teach them lock picking skills, Murphy brings some well needed laughter to the proceedings. From that point on, it actually becomes fun as the regular Joes, under Murphy’s tutelage, begin to put their plan into action.

Tower Heist is an ensemble comedy that promises more than it gives. When Murphy isn’t on-screen, it just isn’t that fun and the romance/sexual tension/whatever the hell it is that’s supposed to be happening between Stiller and Téa Leoni’s FBI agent just feels horrendously tacked on. It’s not that we want to encourage preening of stars, but you do wonder where this film would have gone if Eddie Murphy had been given his original wish to put together the film himself with a cast of his choice… Then you remember films like Pluto Nash and Norbit and Tower Heist doesn’t seem so bad as it is.

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