Eddie Murphy returns to form in this action-caper with Ben Stiller
A lot has been written about Eddie Murphy’s career trajectory over the past decade of so, with many of his devoted fans from his early work in 48 Hours, Raw and Coming to America becoming increasingly despondent with the comedian’s choices since that golden time, which has seen a huge decline in not only the quality of his work, but in box-office receipts. His current US release, A Thousand Words, a film which had been sitting on the shelf for nearly two years, has bombed just as hard as those which has preceded it (see Meet Dave and Imagine That), and laid even more credence to the fact that Murphy just isn’t the same these days. It comes as something of a relief then that Tower Heist upsets the balance somewhat, in that it ranks as Murphy’s best performance in amongst a decade of misfires and mistakes.
A kind of Ocean’s Eleven-lite, with the suave, sophisticated thief replaced with your average 9-5 blue-collar worker, Tower Heist is the story of Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), manager of the aptly named “The Tower”, a luxury tower-block in Manhattan owned by the seemingly gracious Arthur Shaw (a superbly slimy Alan Alda). For years Kovacs has dedicated his life to Shaw and his company, but when he learns of Shaw’s arrest for fraud and money-swindling, he begins to suspect foul play. A misunderstanding surely he thinks, but upon hearing the evidence, he comes to realise that not only has Shaw bet his own money, but also that of the employee’s pension, which is worth millions. Cue suicide-attempts from the staff, Kovacs’ angry attempts to smash in Shaw’s prized asset (a car drove by Steve McQueen, itself worth a fortune), and subsequent dismissal of himself and that of fellow disgruntled staff members Charlie (Casey Affleck) and Enrique (Michael Pena). Out of luck and out of work, the trio, with the help of The Tower evictee Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), small-time criminal “mastermind” Slide (Murphy) and safe-cracker Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), plot their revenge on Shaw. The target: Shaw’s personal safe located in his luxurious apartment in the penthouse of The Tower, which Kovacs believes holds millions. But with Shaw and the FBI (led by Tea Leoni’s ballsy detective) close by, will they pull of the crime before getting caught?
Director Brett Ratner, like Murphy, rarely finds himself lauded by critics praise: his sleek, style-over-substance approach to direction has seen him more bashed than praised by critics and fans alike, but his obvious enthusiasm and love of movies is what tends to get him jobs. And here, like with Rush Hour and under-rated caper movie After the Sunset, Tower Heist is the kind of movie which fits his directorial style pretty well. It’s not particularly original or clever in terms of premise (in fact it’s ludicrous in its plot at times), but it’s glossy and slick, with the colour and elegance of Manhattan beautifully portrayed, and the elevator/car sequence the obvious stand-out. This isn’t anywhere near Ocean’s Eleven in terms of class and cool, but it never pretends to be, which makes it even more fun and enjoyable.
The cast too elevate the film a few notches, with some fun turns throughout the ensemble, despite the lack of any real character depth. Oscar-nominee Sidibe impresses most in amongst the crowd in her first role since her star turn in Precious, and is a joy throughout, with her warmth and natural charm elevating what could have been a joyless role, into a hilarious turn that will only add to her already impressive resume. Stiller, meanwhile is solid if unspectacular throughout, with his usual loveable loser shtick a little tiresome in places, but still good value mixed in with the rest; and, in a similar vein to Murphy, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick and the great Judd Hirsch show glimpses of their former glories with some funny moments, and are good sports throughout. It’s just a shame the likes of Affleck and Leoni, great actors in their own right, are left to wrestle with some lifeless roles that don’t do their talents justice, and are ultimately wasted throughout.
But this is Murphy’s show, and despite too being somewhat underused, he is in his element as he gleefully dances through the movies with the kind of verve and gusto you would normally associate with the extremely tight leather suits from his stand-up heyday. Here, as the uncouth, foul-mouthed Slide, is the best example of Murphy “off the leash” for many a year, reminiscent not only of his early work, but of that of his turn in Bowfinger, the last time he was given this kind of comedic licence. It’s such a joy to see Murphy doing what he does best again, but equally sad that it may be another decade before we see him as good as this again.
Glossy and fun, but unlikely to leave a lasting impression, Tower Heist is well worth a view, and features brilliant turns from Sidibe, and the return-to-form of Eddie Murphy. Well worth a view.
Editor’s Note: The disc used for review featured ‘property of’ messages displayed during the film. These will not be on retail version and the words and score given for the AV quality are in spite of this annoyance.
Tower Heist looks great on the disc, and is everything you would expect from a recent cinema release. Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, the visuals are as rich and compelling as they would have been on the big screen. Manhattan is beautiful right down to the last detail, with the buildings looking superb and the hustle and bustle of the city portrayed nicely. In fact, all the colours and palette are presented well, with everything from skin tones of the actors right down to the beauty of Steve McQueen’s car are perfectly rendered. There are few hints of grain, and the blacks at night sometimes lack the depth than in some other scenes, but it isn’t anything too bad that it will deter from your viewing.
The audio too is excellent, here presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital. From the busy tower block lobby, to the sounds of the huge Thanksgiving Day parade that sweeps through the film in the final act sound as if you were there. The voices of the actors are well presented throughout, with Murphy’s feisty tones mixing with Stiller’s more persona, and with Sidibe’s hilarious accent, which is a joy throughout. There are a few bits of the movie where the music soundtrack is a little too overbearing, particularly through some of the action scenes, but it is never too intrusive to ruin your watching experience.
Extras on the disc include a fun commentary from director Brett Ratner, co-writers Jeff Nathanson and Ted Griffin and editor Mark Helfrich; two alternative endings, both of which while adding different perspectives, do little to enchance the ending as it stands; and the usual array of deleted scenes and a gag reel.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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