Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tower Heist

Tower Heist, the new action-comedy from recently resigned Oscar producer Brett Ratner, tells the implausible tale of a recently fired hotel manager (Ben Stiller) who rounds up a merry band of gentleman to rip off the Wall Street yuppie that robbed them of their pensions.

The amount of their pensions is never revealed, but Stiller and his crew (which include a confused Matthew Broderick, a stereotyped Michael Peña, a flip-floppy Casey Affleck and a look-I’m-doing-real-movies-again Eddie Murphy) plan to boost $20 million from Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda).  No small feat for these amateur Robin Hoods.

To be brief, Tower Heist goes exactly where you think it’s going to go, it offers cheap laughs right where you suspect them to be offered, and it ends exactly how you think it’s going to end.  It’s a phoned-in, doing-it-for-the-dough action flick.  But there are far bigger problems at stake here.

In his recent essay detailing why he gave A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas a grade A, Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman said that there are, basically, two ways to grade a film: as its own, or on a curve.

Commenting on the curve method, Gleiberman said, “there’s a slippery slope to the judge-every-movie-within-its-genre argument. It can become an excuse for hype, for saying of more or less every film: It is what it is. (Yes, but what if what it is is crap?)”

And that’s the exact point I’m trying to make here.  (For the record, I have not agreed with the critical choices that Mr. Gleiberman or his magazine has made in the past several years.  He often tends to praise movies I consider garbage.  This essay, however, is the best thing he’s written in years.)  Why should I (or anyone) simply give Tower Heist an is-what-it-is pass?  The movie is indeed utter crap, so why dumb it down and make it seem more presentable when it’s anything but?

In short, I simply do not understand why the majority of contemporary action-comedies feel the need to suspend all sense of logic.  This disregard of life’s most basic principles – physics, mathematics, coherent plot structure – isn’t usually prevalent from the onset, it only takes hold when it’s convenient for the story. 

In the case of Tower Heist, it’s gently moving a ceiling panel in an elevator up with your hand, then five minutes later, resting a 2,000-pound Ferrari on top of that elevator. It’s hiding that same Ferrari in a giant, rooftop pool, but not showing how the car gets out.  Or giving dozens of middle-class, hard working Americans a slab of gold, and actually thinking they’d know how to monetize it.

Beyond these oh-it’s-okay-because-we’re-making-an-action-movie plot holes, Tower Heist is filled with coincidental actions of convenience that make the titular theft actual feasible.  The kind of thing where if half of the hotel staff wasn’t watching the Snoopy balloon pass during the Macy's Day Parade, or the entire security team wasn’t staring at a French Playboy, then the thieves would’ve never made it past the lobby.

Some may say I’m being too hard on a throwaway action film.  But more and more, I’m seeing the it is what it is argument in reviews (especially those of mainstream critics).  I do not understand why crap films get a pass (and critical respect) simply because they are widely acknowledged as crap.

Tower Heist, like every other film, certainly is what it is.  But that doesn’t mean I have to critique it that way.  D-


  1. That sucks! I had hoped that it would be decent - I like Ben Stiller and I want to like Eddie Murphy.

    New banner/logo?

  2. If you like Eddie Murphy at all, you may like him in this, he was old school over-the-top Eddie.

    Yeah I was bored and thought I'd mess around with a new logo. I'm revamping the whole site soon, this was just to tide me over.

  3. This sprung up on me (though it hasn't been released here yet) and after learning of the cast, I thought it might have been decent. Then I discovered that Brett Ratner directed it. Then I was surprised to read several glowing reviews. I'm with you with the 'it is what it is' thing. I could not understand why Transformers 3 was getting praise (and 37% on RT is praise) purely because it was better than the second one. Crazy. Another example is The Three Musketeers - an awful film that was a bit of fun at times. Though I wasn't as bored as I was in some films this year, this film doesn't deserve more than one star (D- grading) because it is an awful film, despite it's so-bad-it's-fun moments that many critics have forgiven and handed over a recommendation for. No. No one 'should' spent 18-23 dollars (in 3D) for that film. I'm totally with you.

  4. Nice, and you're right, the "so-bad-it's-fun" stance is also very dangerous, it's completely taken over film criticism of mainstream films. I just don't get it.

  5. Made me laugh and held my interest more than it should have, given how sloppy it is. Call it an acceptable bit of B-minus work from a C student. Good review my dude. Eddie really had me laughing here but he wasn't the only one.

  6. Glad you (kinda) liked the flick. Just didn't do anything for me. Except mildly piss me off.