The Heist of the 99 Percent: ‘Tower Heist’

I don’t know what the people at Universal Pictures were thinking when they picked up the pitch for Tower Heist. Yes, you could make an argument that people would want to live out their hatred of the world’s Bernie Madoffs in the safety of a movie theater. And you could even try to sell that idea really hard with mega stars like Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. However, what in recent film history gave the folks at Universal the impression people want to think about real world issues when they go to the movies?

In the Valley of Elah had an Oscar-winning director, Tommy Lee Jones, and Charlize Theron. No one even remembers that movie today (and it was pretty good). The Hurt Locker is the lowest grossing Best Picture winner in the history of the Academy Awards. Those are war movies, but business films haven’t fared any better. Just ask Oliver Stone after Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps or Kevin Spacey after Margin Call. Despite all-star casts, these films talked about more money than they actually made.

“OK, but forget about those movies,” says the bigwig Universal Exec., “This is a comedy! We’ve got Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy! They’re gold!”

If this was the argument, though, then why is Eddie Murphy’s character so limited in the film? As an ex-con brought in to teach Ben Stiller and the rest of the tower’s former staff how to steal stuff, Murphy is in his element. He’s cracking wise, talking jive, and basically acting like the feisty troublemaker we all remember so fondly. I guess I should clarify that by saying he does this in only 15-20 minutes of screen time.

It’s a lively reminder of what we loved about the potty-mouthed comedian before he started making potty jokes for kids. However, it doesn’t feel like the comeback it was billed as. It’s Stiller who carries most of the movie, a concept that probably sounded ok from the studio standpoint. I’m guessing they didn’t think about his limited potential as a straight man, though. Stiller isn’t asked to be funny too often. Instead he’s called on to react to funny people doing semi-funny things.

Casey Affleck plays his right-hand man at the office and his brother-in-law at home. I love Affleck (both of them, actually) but, like Stiller, he’s not asked to play to his talents here. In fact, he’s not asked to play at all. He’s just asked to read his lines and get through the scene in one take (we all know how much Ratner hates rehearsing). It feels like the rest of the cast is there for similar purposes. Tea Leoni and Michael Pena drop a few jokes in their limited roles, but nothing substantial. Gabourey Sidibe makes the most of her cliché-ridden, half-character to no avail.

None of it’s nearly enough. Actors can only do so much to save a script, and this script is beyond saving. The plot is convoluted and absent of fun. The action is comic-y and ineffective. Most of all, though, it just doesn’t make sense. Stories are started and left unfinished. What happens to Eddie Murphy’s character in this movie? Really. If someone knows, can you please send me an email? It’s ridiculous, juvenile, and unprofessional.

What else should I have expected from a director who’s most famous for two things, “Rehearsals are for fags,” and a disgusting story about his ex-girlfriend that she claims wasn’t even about him? Well, that might be a tad unfair. He might still be more reviled for ruining the X-Men franchise. Or maybe people think of him now as the person who got fired from producing the Oscars. With all of these negative professional and personal aspects adding up, can we please just agree to let this boy/man drift off into obscurity, never to enter the art world again?

The special features included are plentiful, but unfulfilling. One of the two alternate endings does give a bit more closure to Murphy’s story. The deleted scenes and gag reel are pretty standard fare, and the commentary by Ratner is simply an unwanted inclusion without his stars contributing, as well. I honestly didn’t even try Universal’s Second Screen, an interactive feature used through an app on your tablet. I don’t have a tablet, and didn’t want to clog up my iPhone with anything from this atrocious film. Though it may be the only reason to buy this appalling movie, I’m betting you can find the feature on a better Blu-ray.

RATING 1 / 10