Tower Heist (Blu-ray)

It’s not just a robbery. It’s payback.

The Bernie Madoff scandal was not good news for anyone, except perhaps for Hollywood, where director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) has taken the basic concept, and devised a tale in which the working-class folks scheme a way to get back at their corrupt boss. With economic disparity a huge topic these days, and Ratner’s Tower Heist serves it up for laughs.

The Tower is an apartment building in Manhattan, described as the hottest real estate in the U.S. This is not just because of the location, but because of the concierge-like staff, led by Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller, Tropic Thunder), meeting the needs of the residents. When the Josh’s boss, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda, MASH), the building’s owner, is arrested for fraud. Twenty million dollars, representing the staff’s pensions, is missing. Thanks to his knowledge of the building, Josh deduces where the money is stashed. He devises a plan to get it back, with the help of his brother-in-law (Casey Affleck, Ocean’s Eleven), an elevator operator (Michael Pena, The Lincoln Lawyer), a laid off stockbroker (Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and a cleaning lady turned safecracker (Gabourey Sidibe, The Big C). Josh and his crew need someone to turn them into hardcore criminals, so he turns to Slide (Eddie Murphy, Meet Dave) a childhood friend turned petty crook, to teach them how to be thieves. What could possibly go wrong?

The movie begins with an image of what appears to be a $100 bill filling the entire screen. Then, Shaw is seen swimming “over” it, as the camera pulls back to reveal that the bill is actually a giant painting at the bottom of Shaw’s rooftop swimming pool. This shows that the guy is swimming in money, not unlike Scrooge McDuck. This sets the tone of the film, establishing Shaw as the “have” that all the “have nots” will soon rally against.

For the most part, the characters are stock types. Stiller is the loyal employee who is outraged to learn his perfect boss is far from perfect. Broderick is the down-on-his-luck formerly successful guy, played mostly for “fish out of water” style jokes. Affleck’s character has a pregnant wife at home, giving him some personal stakes toward getting the money back. Pena has some of the funniest lines as a fast food employee hoping to gain more respectable work at the Tower. Sidibe performs with a comedy Jamaican accent (Jamaican me crazy!) for a few extra chuckles. Filling out the ensemble is Tea Leoni (Jurassic Park 3) as an FBI agent and Judd Hirsch (Independence Day) as another Tower staffer.

The star, though, is Eddie Murphy, who in many scenes goes a long way in recapturing that old Eddie Murphy style of his better performances from years ago. The best parts of the movie have Murphy’s street-smart character trying to turn these schlubs into criminals. His rapid-fire jokes bouncing off of their cluelessness are the funniest scenes, and I wish the rest of the movie had that same energy. Once the heist begins, long stretches of the movie go by without any laughs. There are the requisite insane plot twists and last-minute scrapes we expect from the heist genre, but viewers are coming to this movie expecting comedy, and getting very little of it during the big finale.

A lot of movie fans consider Brett Ratner to be the filmmaking equivalent of a flesh-eating virus, but I merely find his work uneven. His better movies have been straightforward comedies. It’s when he’s strayed from comedy into other genres, such as action or horror, that his work becomes horribly bland. This argument can be seen in Tower Heist. When the movie emphasizes the comedy, it’s spot on. When it emphasizes action over comedy, it falters.

What doesn’t falter is the audio and video on this Blu-ray, both of which are razor sharp, no surprise for a recently-made studio film. The colors are bright and vibrant, and the skin tones are clean and natural. The speakers get a workout whenever the score by Christophe Beck (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) kicks in, and all other dialogue and sound effects come through nicely as well.

On of the bonus features, Ratner says directors should not surround themselves with people who do nothing but kiss their asses, which is odd because the commentary and featurette are all about heaping vast amounts of praise onto Ratner. On the commentary, Ratner and the writers discuss the film’s origin and Ratner’s overall career. The featurette is also self-congratulatory, but contains some interesting looks at how some of the big set pieces were filmed. From there, we get Ratner’s video diary from the production, some very funny deleted and alternate scenes, and two alternate endings that tie up some loose ends. A second disc is a DVD of the movie, along with a digital copy. The set is also equipped with “Second Screen” technology, which allows you to view the movie on a networked tablet or computer.

Tower Heist is perfect…as in perfectly middle-of-the-road. The funny scenes are riotously funny, but the actual heist is lacking in laughs.

The Verdict

For not being as good as it could have been, guilty.

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