DVD Review: Tower Heist

 

Stiller and Murphy chew the scenery in 'Tower Heist.'

Stiller and Murphy chew the scenery in ‘Tower Heist.’

Watching Tower Heist, I felt robbed. I had switched on the movie with a sense of optimism, buoyed by the hope of watching Eddie Murphy return to form playing a jive-talking street character, the sort of role that propelled him to stardom, while working alongside comedy all-stars like Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick. Sadly, Tower Heist is mediocre on nearly all counts,  delivering neither memorable jokes, an entertaining plot nor substantial thrills.

The comedy revolves around a group of dedicated employees at The Tower, a hotel in New York (we know it’s prestigious because it’s not the Tower, it’s The Tower). When they find out that their pensions have been lost in a giant Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernie Madoff clone Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a diverse group of employees, led by meek building manager Josh Kovacs (Stiller), scheme to rob Shaw and reclaim what’s rightfully theirs. Of course, hilarity ensues as everything that could go wrong with the plan does. However, what could have been a gut-busting comedy if it had a more intelligent plot instead comes across as predictable and uninspired. The film’s real crime is its screenplay, which shamelessly lifts key plot points from superior movies like Ocean’s Eleven. However, the film’s target audience shouldn’t mind the hackneyed storyline too much, considering most of them are interested in Tower Heist solely for the film’s talented cast. Unfortunately, the film can’t even deliver on that count.

One of the film’s greatest offenses is its criminal misuse of the many stars involved. Stiller is funny at first as Josh, a fed-up, vengeful Everyman with whom all Occupy Wall Street protesters can sympathize, but his character burns out too early and has no room to develop over the last two-thirds of the film. Murphy plays Slide, a petty thief who joins Josh and his crew on their illegal endeavor. His character is the source of the few jokes in the film that actually work, though the borderline-offensive vulgarity of his humor may turn off more demanding viewers. His interactions with Gabourney Sidibe’s spirited Jamaican maid (in her first big film role since her Oscar-nominated turn in Precious) rank among the best scenes of the film. Broderick is not allowed to show off any comedic skills, miscast in the thankless role of an old, pessimistic schlub. Most of all, the talented Téa Leoni is completely squandered as an FBI agent with a poorly-developed and ultimately rudderless romantic interest in Josh. The only actor truly deserving of praise is Alda, who plays Shaw with a mix of menace and bravado. He steals the show effortlessly.

The heist itself is ridiculous to watch and even cringe-worthy at times. The inane plotting of the film never allows the audience to believe that the characters in this film would be successful at anything more than holding a door open. Not one of them acts believably at any point in the film, making Tower Heist seem more like a poorly imagined fantasy than a timely crime comedy.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on Tower Heist. After all, it doesn’t pretend to be sophisticated or witty or even good. It only promises to provide a distraction to its audience in a time when everyone needs a distraction now and again. It does have a few entertaining moments, though I challenge any viewers to recall what made the film funny a week later. I, for one, expected more from Tower Heist, especially due to all the talented people involved with the film. Where the film should thrill, it bores. Where it should move at a brisk pace, it plods along, and where it should instigate laughter, it instead generates yawns. The potential for this film was great, with the comedy one-two punch of Murphy and Stiller, but the end product is lacking in laughs and ingenuity. This minimally entertaining lowbrow comedy is both forgettable and best forgotten. C-

Image Courtesy: Cinema Dope.

Advertisements

DVD Review: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise scales one of the world's tallest buildings.

Tom Cruise scales one of the world’s tallest buildings.

Since 2005, Tom Cruise’s career has been floundering, with a string of box-office disappointments (Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie, Knight and Day) doing little to keep him current and popular. Luckily for Cruise, Ethan Hunt, the protagonist of his Mission: Impossible franchise, has always been his most bankable and successful character. However, Ghost Protocol, the fourth entry in the series, does more than give Cruise another hit – the film re-establishes him as an action star, and also breathes new life into the series (the last M:I was released in 2006).

Ghost Protocol begins with a bang: Ethan Hunt, superspy extraordinaire, is broken out of a Moscow prison in a sequence so effortlessly cool that it’s also wildly entertaining. Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” plays through a cell block as Hunt practices his martial arts moves on unfortunate prison guards while tech whiz Benji (Simon Pegg) wreaks havoc by opening cell doors at random. Following that exhilarating opening, Hunt, partnering with Benji and beautiful, driven agent Jane Foster (Paula Patton), jump headfirst into another suitably impossible mission: infiltrating the Kremlin. No sooner than they accomplish this, however, do they realize that it’s a set-up, and an enemy team is already in position. They narrowly escape the Kremlin, which is then blown up (in suitably spectacular fashion). The entire Impossible Missions Force is disavowed, so Hunt and his team must clear their names and track down the terrorist group while also fleeing the government they’ve dedicated their lives to protecting.

One thing that Ghost Protocol really has going for it is its sharp, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny script. A danger that every action franchise faces is losing its appeal by either becoming too tiresome and brutal, or too silly and implausible. If Ghost Protocol is any indication, the M:I franchise is going to be just fine. Ghost Protocol expertly navigates between action and humor, giving all of the characters room to deliver some great one-liners but stopping their interactions from dissolving into absurdity.

The acting in Ghost Protocol is exceptional, especially for this kind of film. Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner brings gravitas and mystery to his character, while Tom Cruise proves why he’s still atop Hollywood’s A-list by giving Hunt a caginess and manic energy perfect for this kind of popcorn movie. Michael Nyqvist (Blomkvist in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is spot-on as the menacing villain Hendricks, while the lovely Paula Patton shows off impressive dramatic chops. The standout, however, is Simon Pegg, hilarious, witty and earnest. He’s the loyal sidekick every action movie wishes it could have.

Brad Bird, the animation auteur behind Pixar’s beloved The Incredibles, helms Ghost Protocol, which is a choice that, though risky, pays off in spades. Rarely is an action film released that is as much fun as this one. Whether Hunt is scaling the tallest skyscraper in the world or pursuing a terrorist through a sandstorm in Dubai, the film is a jolt of pure adrenaline. Never before has the franchise felt so young and alive. Mission accomplished. A

Image Courtesy The Telegraph.

DVD Review: Captain America – The First Avenger

Captain America faces off with HYDRA troops.

Captain America faces off with HYDRA troops.

In 2011, a year that was oversaturated with comic-book movies, this one stands out. Boosted by a slew of great performances and exciting action sequences, Captain America succeeds with style. The story, set during World War II, starts with a scrawny asthmatic weakling named Steve Rogers being repeatedly turned away by recruitment officers because of his physical attributes. His desire to join the army stems from the purest of purposes: he is a true patriot, with a strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. He gets his chance to fight when he is selected by a scientist to become a ‘supersoldier’, incredibly strong not only in mind but also in body. Rogers soon meets a formidable opponent in the form of the mysterious, cruel Red Skull, a Nazi in charge of the evil HYDRA division determined to harness an extraterrestrial power to destroy the United States.

Chris Evans, who previously portrayed the Human Torch in the lackluster Fantastic Four films, is excellent and believable as Rogers. He fully brings to life the larger-than-life Captain America figure, playing him with straightforward sensibility and an air of humility even in the face of the character’s extraordinary achievements. Hayley Atwell, who plays the beautiful, no-nonsense Peggy Carter, is both witty and appealing enough to make the audience fall for her as quickly as Captain America does. Hugo Weaving plays the Red Skull with bravado and an air of menace, while Tommy Lee Jones has great fun as a grizzled, cranky Army colonel.

While the idea of a Nazi trying to take over the world has been used to death, and the dialogue is straightforward enough to make me wish that the screenwriters had tried a little harder, Captain America is mostly a thrilling, pleasantly old-fashioned super-hero flick that does a better than average job of creating a likable hero, and introduces the Captain. What it has working for it is that it is undeniably fun. Whatever its shortcomings, the film is a straight-up good time. B+

Image courtesy: Uwire.