Tower Heist

A Supposedly Fun Film I’ll Never Watch Again

…middle class folk team up with street hood, create nothing interesting… a robin-hooded, american-folkloricized, done-some-little-guy-wrong song…dreams of a better casting agent… heist-meisters with little feist…

Tower Heist is a mediocre, slightly wooden, capital-castrating, mainstream Manhattaner of unnecessary stunt work, obvious plot twists and tweeted performances, with a few yuks sprinkled around to keep this ensemble clunker lubricated. This is the good news. You know what comes next.

Here’s Eddie Murphy, still willing to bend over backwards to play the slick, fast-talking, urban black hood, resembling an unfunny J.B. Smoove (a highly unlikely thought on its own, yet apt) meets the hoo-ha donkey voice from Shrek (a vox caricature so zip-a-dee-doo-dah it was thrice as offensive as anything Jar Jar Binks ever gurgled) meets the ever-resilient (and in Tower Heist, resurgent) Magic Negro.

Ed bends over so far backward to embody this filmic ossuary of stereotypes for a payday he basically kisses his own ass, not to mention director Brett Ratner’s.

A dream: Replace Ed with J.B. in Tower Heist and you’ve got a movie. J.B. would have chewed up every scene possible (not to mention the stereotypes), in a way heisting the movie itself like Kingsley did in Sexy Beast, but not Richard Pryor in Silver Streak (where Rich’s middle-American funky hustler was balanced by Gene Wilder’s permed doppelganger of whitey wispiness).

Perhaps in New York City right now there are hundreds or even thousands of street-smart and sassy crooks of African heritage pimpin’, jivin’ and thievin’ like they were living too much in ’82 …

There is none of that Pryor-Wilder everyman chemistry between Ed and Ben Stiller, and the espionage-laced race play of Silver Streak has been replaced by the ironic, class-war jingoism of Tower Heist. J.B. might have urged more out of Stiller, but that is an opus of dreams for what could have been.

Maybe Ed’s synthetic admixture (an Edmixture?) of late-Twentieth Century racial bygones does not quite propel Heist into some socio-cinematic tide pool. Perhaps in New York City right now there are hundreds or even thousands of street-smart and sassy crooks of African heritage pimpin’, jivin’ and thievin’ like they were living too much in ’82, patiently waiting to unburden the unhip.

But wait, here’s Gabourey Sidibe playing (you guessed it) a black maid. We can tell she’s a maid and not a cleaning lady because she’s dressed in French. In just a couple of years Gabourey has managed to go from portraying an inner-city, human compost heap rising from spiritual tenement to enlightened being in Precious, to this humorless and gutless heist of nearly two hours of your life; and oh, guess what, not to give too much away, but her character’s got criminal skillz too. Go figure.

Together Eddie and Gabourey elicit a collective groan of culture as a melting pot Pharaoh and Cleopatra of Magic Negritude, here (yet again) to save the gentle, simple and unassuming Whites, Jews and Latinos from their criminal ineptness; save them with a soul food diet of common sense; save them from the hands of the evil WASP overlord, played here with disappointingly little lather and seemingly absent relish by Alan Alda (a portrayal so thin it makes satire look like attire).

You half expect Eddie to break out a “pop a cap in yo’ ass!” or two, and he delivers, direct from 1990 and verbatim. Which raises the question: Can no one in this film deliver a fresh comic line?

Heist even manages to embarrass legendary uber-male Steve McQueen, much to McQueen’s posthumous chagrin.

Another dream: If they had cast Jeffrey Jones as the oily antagonist instead of Alda, and Matthew Broderick instead of the passive-aggressive Stiller, then the outwitting of everyone, the confounding of those who would dare steal bags of willingly-relinquished retirement funds, the castle storming, the Robin Hooding, the authority mooning, could have insinuated the ‘Save Ferris’ myth and in the process transcended the sum of the film’s parts.

Heist even manages to embarrass legendary uber-male Steve McQueen, much to McQueen’s posthumous chagrin. McQueen would have ripped this film a new asshole simply for invoking him. He would have slapped all these pussies in the face before sleeping with their girlfriends and subsequently slapping them.

Is Ratner vaguely insinuating The Magnificent Seven rescuing innocent town folk from evil and injustice? Wobbly vigilantism in the penthouse? Perhaps we could view Stiller as the archetypal middle-aged Boomer pantywaist finally finding his stones, more Anthony Michael Hall’s virgin-geek losing his cherry than Ferris Bueller’s alpha-hipster barnstorming Chicago.

Universal wasted no time in getting this ninety-nine per center to DVD, for obvious reasons, but DVD extras? Why bother? Guessing the blooper reel was far superior to the feature. “Plotting Tower Heist”? I think not. Jackie Brown this ain’t. Hell, it ain’t even Another 48 Hours. Alternate endings? What the shit? Seriously, who thought this cinematic weak-stream was worth filming more than one ending?

To pull off a successful contemporary Robin Hood tale it is doubly-imperative the protagonist and his band have a certain combination of cojones and flair. This false dawn of a cast, and this sniveling pickpocket of a film, have neither. They only have their illusions, of charisma and of humor.

It’s not too difficult to transform the illusions of protagonists into great comedy, but in this case the viewer is left peering into an empty safe.

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