Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Man on Film: Tower Heist

Clearly when one elects to go to Tower Heist, they are doing so because of the cast. This has to be the case as Brett Ratner is the director of the film. A quick perusal of his filmography sorted by IMDb user ratings shows that his highest rated feature-length 'film' was 2002's Red Dragon, which garnered an impressive 7.2. With his next highest showing being the atrocious X-Men: The Last Stand at 6.8, one should certainly temper his expectations regardless of other factors such as cast or screenplay. With Jeff Nathanson--one of the scribes responsible for IJ: KoCS and the second and third Rush Hour movies--as one of the two credited screenwriters, expectations get lowered once more.

The other credited screenwriter is Ted Griffin. If this means little to you, one of the films on his curriculum vitae proves especially meaningful when setting expectations for Tower Heist, and that is Ocean's Eleven. When I say that it proves especially meaningful when setting expectations, I mean that you can pretty much expect to see a working class, post-recession edition of Ocean's Eleven.

The problem with that statement lies with the credited directors of each respective film. Where Ocean's Eleven had Steven Soderbergh directing*, Tower Heist has Brett Ratner at the helm. No strength in casting is going to overcome that.

*While Soderbergh certainly has his detractors, I don't think many would put him in the same tier of directors as Ratner. For those keeping track at home, Soderbergh has directed 17 movies that have higher user ratings at IMDb than Ratner's second highest film. On a tangential note, the most disturbing aspect of these ratings, is that somehow Red Dragon's 7.2 rating is higher than The Limey, Out of Sight, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which all came in at a 7.1 rating. Now, when one looks at their Metascore, the stars realign and Red Dragon nets a 60 while The Limey (73), Out of Sight (85), and Sex, Lies, and Videotape (86) net ratings much more representative of their quality in relation to Ratner's oeuvre. I suppose all this proves is that IMDb user ratings are populist to a fault (albeit in an entirely anecdotal and incomplete fashion), but we all probably knew that.

So we find ourselves with a movie featuring the likes of Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, and Eddie Murphy, who in aggregate have more than enough comedic chops to carry a film. Stiller is not saddled with the role of the pensive and neurotic jew. Murphy, too, seems to have been freed from the shackles that have bound his funniness for the past 15 years. Yet, there are not enough laughs to go around in the screenplay. The only one who sticks out as being especially funny in Tower Heist is Michael Pena. This is sad.

There is a bevy of talent wasted here. Murphy had been given what everyone hoped was an edgier role--one that should have been an ideal vehicle from which to begin a comeback--but when all is said and done, the role has little in the way of comedic substance. Really, the same can be said for all the other roles. I'm not entirely sure that Pena's character had anything particularly funny written for him either. It could well be Pena breathing life into the movie on his own. This would make more sense than believing that somehow one role is funny as written in an ensemble film. It is easier to believe that we live in a world in which one character is funny because of how Michael Pena played him than the alternative in which two screenwriters and a much-maligned director combined to succeed in making one character amusing while the rest fell flat.

Needless to say, Tower Heist was not an impressive film. I suppose it wasn't awful, but a film in which the 99% try to get even with a member of the 1% who bilked them that fails to fully capitalize on a plot that has built-in goodwill cannot be classified as great either. This is essentially a middle-of-the-road caper comedy, which given this cast (yes, even with Ratner at the helm) is a disappointment.

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