Guess what, everybody? Hollywood’s most mediocre filmmaker is back. That’s right, Brett Ratner, the man who made three Rush Hour movies and ruined the X-Men and Hannibal Lector franchises has decided to step behind the camera again with Tower Heist. Like all his previous work, it’s bland, derivative, and needlessly expensive, but also filled with stars and primed to make a lot of money.
You see, Ratner specializes in the kind of dumb Hollywood movies that are easy to sell. He creates inoffensive pieces of simplistic entertainment that grab big opening weekend numbers before racking up endless repeats on basic cable. Ratner may be artistically bankrupt, but he knows how to play the Hollywood game. Now he’s gone ahead and made an all-star heist comedy headlined by Ben Stiller and a return to streetwise trash-talk from Eddie Murphy.
Boring and bland? Of course! But it will make a lot of money and Ratner will continue to be allowed to make movies. Sigh…
The film stars Ben Stiller as the manager of a fancy-pants building in New York, with a Bernie Madoff-type played by Alan Alda occupying the penthouse suite. Everything seems great for Stiller, who loves his job, is friends with his boss, and has a delightful collection of racial stereotypes working for him that he gets along with. Hell, he even got a job for his ne’er do well brother-in-law (Casey Affleck) who is expecting a baby. Then one day Alda is arrested by the FBI and it turns out that he lost the pensions for Stiller and his entire staff. An enraged Stiller decides that the only logical solution is to stage a heist on Alda’s apartment to steal the millions of dollars inevitably contained therein. So he recruits Casey Affleck, a maid/safe cracker (Gabourey Sidibe/Precious), an elevator operator/electrician (the underrated Michael Pena), Matthew Broderick’s broke math genius (whose skills are weirdly never used) and, for some reason, a thief from his block who he barely knows played by Eddie Murphy. No points awarded for guessing whether or not they pull off the heist.
First, let’s discuss the one good thing about the movie: Eddie Murphy. After years of playing upset fathers or waddling in fat-suits, Murphy has finally returned to playing one of the fast-talking hoods that kick started his career in titles like Trading Places and 48 Hrs, and delivers one of his funniest performances in quite a while. He seems committed to the role in a way he hasn’t been in years, and spits out a series of hysterical improvised monologues that will remind audiences why he was once the biggest comedy star in the world. The only problem is that despite his prominent placement in the advertising material, Murphy only plays a supporting role. He provides 20 minutes of great entertainment, but unfortunately the movie is much longer than that.
Aside from Murphy, Ratner seems to have made his cast stick closely to the script, and it’s to the film’s detriment. None of the stars have anything to do other than milk the lone characteristic they’ve been given, and none of them are funny. The heist itself is decent enough, but with all the characters that need to be introduced, the film meanders for quite a while before getting to the alleged climax, so there’s no real sense of tension suspense or urgency once Ratner starts staging his high rise set pieces. Neither funny enough to work as a comedy or exciting enough to work as a thriller, Tower Heist is merely mediocre entertainment memorable only for Eddie Murphy’s performance
Here’s the thing though: even though the film fails in many ways, it’s not some sort of unparalleled disaster. Bland and uninspired? Sure, but it also delivers exactly what you’d expect from the trailer and nothing more. The film will make money, and will eventually drop into basic cable, where forgettable movies go to eat up timeslots on lazy Sunday afternoons. That’s true of any movie Brett Ratner has ever made and it’s why he’s so successful. He specializes in movies that distract audiences rather than entertain them, and that’s big business in Hollywood. I encourage you not to attend Tower Heist and it’s the right choice, but at the end of the day this movie checks off all the right boxes to appeal to the lowest common denominator audience and make a truckload of money.
It would be nice if general audiences were savvy enough to be disgusted by Tower Heist’s lack of ambition, personality, and originality. Sadly, that just ain’t going to happen. Most people will even think they genuinely enjoyed the movie until it vanishes from their memory almost instantly after the first viewing.