By Dwight Brown NNPA Film Critic
In this “Occupy Wall Street” age, pitting the working class against the super rich is a topical theme. Throw in a Bernie Madoff character and there should be more than enough reason for the proletariats to rise up and give greedy, callous billionaires grief. This action comedy’s heart is in the right place, but its screenplay and direction are not.
The Tower is a luxury high-rise condominium on the edge of New York City’s Central Park. Josh (Ben Stiller) manages the building’s quirky staff and caters to its super rich clientele. He cozies up to Wall Street financial wiz investor Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who treats him like a servant. When Shaw is arrested for conducting a ponzi scheme, Josh is shocked. He talked the building’s board into letting Shaw invest the staff’s pension. Uh oh!
All the money is gone. Shaw is cavalier, feigns his innocence and after a brief house arrest will likely go free. His haughty demeanor irritates Josh. That irritation turns into rage when the popular, elderly doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson), who gave all his savings to Shaw, attempts suicide. Josh seeks revenge. He concocts a plot to rob Shaw with a motley crew: the lazy concierge (Casey Affleck), a deadbeat tenant (Matthew Broderick), a dimwit elevator operator (Michael Pena), a full-figured maid (Gabourey Sidibe) and a street hoodlum from his Queens neighborhood named Slide (Eddie Murphy). Does the rich man stand a chance?
In an interview Eddie Murphy boasted that he concocted the idea for film. Writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson crafted his whims into a screenplay. The script’s most obvious flaw is that it feels sketchy, underdeveloped and preposterous. The plot defects are deeper than a New York pothole. Why is Shaw so sure he’ll go free when so much money is missing? Why does an investigating FBI agent (Tia Leone) give Josh so much inside information on a case that should be tight-lipped? Details. Details. Details. There is the occasional, snarky one liner: a young, new lawyer bargains for Josh’s release and tries to intimidate an FBI agent: Agent, “You’ve only be a lawyer for three days and you’re trying to bribe the FBI?” Lawyer, “Sharks are born swimming.”
Action comedies are director Brett Ratner’s specialty, as evidenced by his famous “Rush Hour” series. Buddy movies are in his strike zone too – he worked wonders with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Yet, it’s as if his trick bag has run empty. His direction seems extra feeble due to the weak script. The action sequences lack imagination. He fails to milk the comedy out of scenes that have great potential. He ignores great opportunities for physical humor. He is not on his game.
The cast tries gallantly to breathe comedy into the movie. The chief joker is Murphy whose antics are faux ghetto manic. He tosses around swear words and the “N” word, but is never convincing. He’s too bourgie for the part. Yet, he exhibits an impish charm that is ultimately disarming. Let your guard down and you will chuckle. Stiller is in his element as the wronged and self-righteous working class hero. Sidibe is quite funny, even if her Jamaican accent is amateurish. The scenes in which Murphy and she flirt may be the best in the movie. Affleck and Broderick are fine. Henderson is touching as the old codger who lost everything.
None of the production elements stand out. Not the cinematography (Dante Spinotti), editing (Mark Helfrich), art direction (Nicholas Lundy), or music (Christophe Beck).
Is there a reason to see this film? If a movie about working-class misfits sticking it to a rich SOB strikes your fancy, maybe you’ll ignore the imperfections and laugh.
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