California Literary Review

Trailer Watch: Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist

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August 2nd, 2011 at 5:04 pm

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Brett Ratner's Tower Heist (2011, Universal)

© 2011 Universal Pictures

You do not see quite as many films actually directed by Brett Ratner as you used to, but he has the distinction of being one of those directors “considered” for many a high-profile franchise project. As in, “Following the director’s decision not to return for another sequel, Studio X is considering Tony Scott, Brett Ratner, Kenneth Branagh and the estate of Stanley Kubrick.”

He also has several very respectable feature films to his name, with Rush Hour chief among them. I occasionally spring to the defense of his glossy Red Dragon adaptation. Accused by many of being no more than a breezy Hannibal Lecter cash grab, it certainly does not stick in the memory despite being based on one of the most frightening books ever written. It is still a decent piece of entertainment while you are in the room watching it. For something juicy and fast-paced, Ratner seems like a comfortable choice.

So here comes Tower Heist, a new crime comedy, and another in this year’s bizarre trend of naming movies exactly what they are about – Horrible Bosses and Bad Teacher stand out especially. Given the apparent tone of the movie, it seems like it should be in some way ironic, but it’s not really. What’s going on with that? Does anybody know?

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Filmmakers and other potential satirists are starting to get smart about the economic recession. Of all people to be talking serious satire, go figure that Uwe Boll would be among the first. In several recent interviews, the much-maligned director of Postal and the Bloodrayne saga has mentioned his interest in a Wall Street killing spree epic. The director has phrased the idea as a more socially relevant remake of his last-stand bloodbath Rampage, personally involving some well-known pillars of high finance.

The prescient brilliance of this idea may have too much potential for Boll’s moviemaking chops, but to recognize its cathartic appeal is half the battle. Meanwhile, Ratner’s admittedly funnier take on the idea has a certain amount of guaranteed draw for the unemployed, the underemployed, and disgruntled employees nationwide (that is to say, employees nationwide). In this movie, the hard-working staff of a high-dollar condo team up to avenge themselves against the billionaire tenant who swindled them out of their retirement. If properly delivered, Tower Heist will more adequately satisfy the criminal fantasies of an unhappy workforce than Horrible Bosses managed to do, despite the latter’s worthy efforts.

These days, the presence of Eddie Murphy is generally a red flag. The notoriously raunchy funnyman has been showing signs of being past his prime for many years now. Since Frank Oz’s offbeat sleeper Bowfinger, he has scarcely done anything that can be called either clever or funny. However, traces of his old charm are manifest in the Tower Heist trailer. His bug-eyed deadpan has not looked so good in a long time.

The rest of the cast is a strangely mixed bag, but none among them is notoriously without merit. Ben Stiller generally holds his own as a funny leading man if he keeps just the slightest little lid on himself. Think The Royal Tenenbaums and not Meet The Parents. Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Judd Hirsch, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick… sure, sure, fine. Gabourey Sidibe, whom we now know is as good at being funny and charming as she is at being miserable (thanks, The Big C!), will probably carry a lot of edgy humor for the duller tools in the box. In addition to having Ben Stiller to abuse, Eddie Murphy needs a capable foil, and the razor-sharp Sidibe is the best candidate out of all the aforementioned. Meanwhile Alan Alda, as the villainous Ponzi schemer, will be as delightfully bad as we all expect him to be.

Tower Heist could be really, really funny. The trailer, while offering some insight into what the tone seems to be, is not a safe guide for judging just how funny it really will be. It is based on a very smart idea, and with a little focus Ratner could have the number one comedy of the year in his hands. There have been some good ones so far, but nothing with real staying power. In any case, as a nation and as a worldwide community we are long overdue for a good hard laugh.

Tower Heist is scheduled for USA release on November 4, 2011. How does it look to all of you out there? Will it be in-your-face fun from the director of Rush Hour or on-the-nose crud from the director of X-Men: The Last Stand?

Opinionate if you got ‘em.

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