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-