In 1998, I was delighted that Jackie Chan star was rising in the American market. That rise culminated with his role in Rush Hour, a fun action-comedy with co-star Chris Tucker. The two stars had a chemistry that was almost as good as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s in the Lethal Weapon series, but a lot lighter. Rush Hour’s director, newcomer Brett Ratner, also shot to stardom and went on to helm two sequels.
After the success of that franchise, Mr. Rattner decided that he had the filmmaking chops to direct more serious movies. In 2002, he directed Red Dragon, a “prequel” to The Silence of the Lambs which was well received. However, his X-Men: The Last Stand, was pretty awful, especially having had the benefit of the momentum that Bryan Singer had given that franchise with his first two films. Rattner’s entry lacked any of the gravitas that Singer’s treatments gave the material and instead went for a quantity over quality approach, flinging more mutants, more action, and more special effects at the audience.
After that, I felt Rattner was a director to avoid.
However, beggars can’t be choosers.
I had about 4 or 5 hours to kill last night waiting for my shift at work and the three movies I was interested in (In Time, The Thing remake, and The Three Musketeers) all got pretty rotten aggregate scores on rottentomatoes.com. While I don’t always agree with the scores on that site, with movie ticket prices being what they are now, I like to stack the deck and try and find something worth the Php 200. Checking the listings my choices were either Puss in Boots (something I felt would be better saved for DVD) or Tower Heist.
I went into the movie pretty much expecting more of the same from Mr. Rattner, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying the film. It just goes to show that if you find something you’re good at, you should stick with it. He’s great at directing action comedies. This is an action comedy. It’s a great film.
The story revolves around The Tower, a residential building in New York City, Central Park West. The general manager (Ben Stiller) heads up a staff of dedicated service industry employees who cater to every whim of their rich clientele. This is the kind of customer service us peons can only dream of. You want a burger with two 1/8 pound patties, medium rare, with Romaine lettuce, Sugar Lump tomatoes, cut extra thin, Carzalia Sweet onions, diced, on a sour dough bun from Brooklyn, with freshly made mayonnaise and Hines Ketchup on the side? Sure, we’ll have it up to you in an hour, sir.
The penthouse of The Tower belongs to Alan Alda, who plays a money manager that decorates his living room with vintage cars. Upon Stiller’s request, he takes on the staff’s pension fund and vows to triple their earnings by year’s end. Wouldn’t you know it, Mr. McDuck is actually running a Ponzi scheme and all that cash goes poof. Stiller is left to tell his staff, who he considers family that all the money that is set aside for their retirement is gone as the FBI moves in to take Alda into custody.
After getting fired for telling Alda off, Stiller decides to get back at him by stealing back their money from thief. Putting together a crew that includes Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and Eddie Murphy, Stiller uses his knowledge about the building, its residents, and its employees to break in, all while avoiding the head of the FBI investigation, Téa Leoni.
Short version? It’s like Wall Street, Beverly Hills Cop, and Ocean’s Eleven had a nasty three-way and filmed it for posterity.
I was surprised that everything seems to work so well. I was laughing at the funny parts (honest guffaws, not polite chuckles), cheering at the parts that were supposed to be rousing and cowering in my seat at the parts that were supposed to be tense (I’ve got a healthy fear of heights and this movie is called Tower Heist). The thing of it is, Rattner never lets the film become too heavy. Alan Alda isn’t Gary Oldman or Alan Rickman. He’s not sinister, he’s not evil incarnate. He’s just playing an asshole who deserves to get his balls kicked in. Stiller and Murphy aren’t Clooney and Pitt, either. Their characters bumble their way through the caper for the most part, and both characters made their careers on comedy. The cast seems to know this, so know one tries to ham it up too bad.
At the end of the movie, I left the theater feeling that I'd made a good choice picking this over the other non-event movies showing this week. The movie definitely deserves whatever success it gets, and I hope that Rattner's done with trying to horn in on geek franchises. He's not on the same level as Nolan, Favreau, and Branagh.
But he does make a mean action-comedy.
And did I mention Téa Leoni is in it? She is so hot. Makes me wish The Naked Truth had gone on more than 3 seasons. I think I'll break out Bad Boys again...