Tower Heist: When Puss in Boots vacated the first-weekend-in-November slot, Tower Heist became the big holiday-season kickoff movie by default. It probably has the goods for a big hit, too, capitalizing on some populist anger for a story of working-class high-rise employees trying to steal $20 million from the resident finance jerk (Alan Alda!) who defrauded all of his investors—including the building employees’ pension funds. Oddly, though, it’s more of a simulation of a big crowd-pleasing romp than one that will actually make it to comfort-movie status. It’s a good simulation, too, probably enough for the movie to hit: Eddie Murphy is funny in a movie for the first time since I Spy (which for many people really means since Bowfinger), Ben Stiller tones down his schtick to play straight man, and the supporting cast—Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, and Gabourey Sidibe, Tea Leoni—is strong.
Yet director Brett Ratner, characteristic of his technical competence and clumsiness with everything else, doesn’t seem to understand what’s most enjoyable about his actors, his premise, or heist movies in general. Ratner isn’t a process-oriented guy, so he stumbles through the heist planning haphazardly, pausing for some funny riffs but very little detail about how these guys are actually gonna take the building. You expect the revelations to come mid-action instead, but they never really turn up; at one point, Stiller panics because Murphy does something counter to their original plan, and the movie never bothers telling anyone what that original plan was. Instead, it spends time making laborious justifications for ripping off the bad guy, as if afraid the audience will mistake the Alda character for a misunderstood businessman and the likable working-class guys for scary Occupy Trump Tower revolutionaries.
That would be secondary if the movie had more comedic gusto. Curiously, given his producer credit and poster presence, Murphy, for all of the laughs he gets just by doing some ranting and riffing, doesn’t have much of a role, not just in conception (he’s the actual criminal the workers get to help with the robbery, and it’s unclear as to how clever he’s actually supposed to be), but in actual screentime. He’s not cast as Stiller’s mismatched buddy; this is a less glam Ocean’s 11, with Stiller, letting the gray in his hair show, in the Clooney role, and Murphy not even given the Brad Pitt first lieutenant position—he’s got a part scarcely bigger than Casey Affleck (in either an Ocean’s movie or this one). I suppose the democracy of the comedy distribution, and Murphy’s apparent lack of movie-dominating ego, is refreshing; the ensemble does work up a nice chemistry, and many of the movie’s best scenes are group tangents.
But as Ratner has proven in any number of genres, from thriller (Red Dragon) to sci-fi/fantasy (X-Men: The Last Stand), there’s no strong ensemble he can’t undermine with slack, indifferent, just-get-it-done direction, so the movie could’ve used as much extra Murphy as possible. Tower Heist is marginally better than his Pierce Brosnan/Salma Hayek/Don Cheadle caper After the Sunset, mostly because the comedy breaks the patented Ratner tedium. But he seems to have learned shockingly little over the years; he still assembles talent and then just directs traffic. Maybe he identifies with these characters because he so often appears to be punching the clock. For Murphy, who recently admitted to Rolling Stone that he may hold some kind of record for the number of sequels he’s made (eight, by my count), this is still a major upswing. For Stiller, it’s strictly in the middle: not as lazy or pandering as his Fockers/Museum forays but not as strong a mainstream comedy as Tropic Thunder or Zoolander (unlike Murphy, though, he has movies like Greenberg and The Royal Tenenbaums on his resume to cushion the blows of doing Ratner-or-worse movies). I’d love to see them in another movie that uses its actors as more than just insurance.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas: What’s up with releasing a Christmas movie a solid 51 days before the actual holiday? I do realize, from my years of studying movie release schedules like a general at war, that Christmas movies often come out on the first weekend in November, because if they’re big hits, they’ll play right through Christmas and make a ton of money. However, please note the “if they’re big hits” caveat, and further note that the bigger Christmas season hits tend to be aimed at families, not college students, bros, stoners, and/or the girls who tolerate them (well, okay, probably some of those people did go see Elf, but it was rated PG). Not only is the Harold & Kumar Christmas movie going to make probably around fifty percent of its money this weekend and ninety percent of its money after three weekends, there isn’t a family movie coming out this weekend at all. In fact, from a strategic release date deployment perspective, most of the rest of the year is pretty jacked up. It’s pretty clear that Harold & Kumar should be coming out as Thanksgiving counterprogramming, or possibly during the early-December slot occupied by The Sitter (which looks funny, but not in particular need of a holiday release), and that one of the three family movies currently scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, either Arthur Christmas or Hugo, should’ve moved the hell off of that week, out of the way of The Muppets, which, mark my words, will be huge.
Anyway, I hope that the early-bird timing that had me watching a Christmas movie on the second day of November doesn’t keep audiences away from A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, which made me laugh more than Tower Heist. Second installment Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay had such a promising title, insinuating that the sequel would hit more goofy yet sly sociopolitical notes amidst the gross-out stoner humor. The degree to which that movie just doesn’t quite work still boggles my mind, but the Christmas version is a return to form of sorts; you can read more in my full review.
The Son of No One: The barely-released movies with name actors just keep on coming! From writer-director Dito Montiel, The Son of No One boasts a ridiculously eclectic bordering on absurd cast, with Channing Tatum supported by older actors both legendary (Al Pacino) and Ray Liotta (Ray Liotta), plus Juliette Binoche, Katie Holmes, and Tracy Morgan in a serious role. Try to picture a movie that stars all of these people, I dare you.
I missed the press screening and would go see this for novelty, but I’m too distracted trying to figure out if I can manage seeing this barely-released movie with a name star (or at least, Christina Ricci), a rom-com about renaissance fairs that I had no idea existed until my wife, who used to go to the faire every year, pointed it out to me. But anyway, The Son of No One: it’s almost certainly better than Trespass or The Double or, for that matter, Pacino’s Righteous Kill or 88 Minutes! How much better is anyone’s guess.