Tower Heist

An alleged comedy, Tower Heist is generic from its title on down.  Look at the talent on display and tell me Director Brett Ratner has any excuse for this.  Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Gabourey Sidibe.  What happened?

Ben Stiller plays Josh, the GM of the most luxurious condo tower in New York.  His most pricey client, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), has been convicted of all kinds of money-dealing wrongs.  This guy has so much dough, the floor of his rooftop pool features a 100-dollar bill design.  He owns a 1953 ferrari once driven by Steve McQueen—and the car was disassembled and then reassembled in Shaw’s living room.

Josh mistakenly offered the handling of company pensions to Shaw, only to find out that all of it was lost to Shaw’s scheming.  An FBI agent (Tea Leoni) having pity on Josh and his situation, informs him that $20 million or so of Shaw’s cash has yet to be found.  Josh believes he knows exactly where it is.  In an attempt to redeem himself and get his people’s money back, Josh assembles a group of dopes, including Affleck, Broderick, Pena, and Murphy to break into Shaw’s penthouse and rob a safe built within one of the condo walls.

Ratner has all the production values required for a major heist picture like this, but in his attempt to combine Rush Hour and Ocean’s Eleven, he fails in deliver a weak script without any wiggle room for his comedic stars to shine.  Eddie Murphy is vastly underused.  Audiences will eat up his scenery chewing harkening back to his glory days from the 80s.  Murphy really hasn’t been this funny in quite some time, but he enters the movie late in the game and gets very little to do.  Stiller plays the straight guy.  He has nothing to do here other than play an unlikely hero and leader of the pack, acting as the only character with enough smarts to pull off a heist of such caliber.  Broderick, Affleck, and Pena play the fillers: bumbling, dopey, and intended for laughs.  I never found them interesting or believable enough to laugh at.

Luckily, Ratner wraps the film up in 90 minutes.  I could view this as a perfectly acceptable time-killer, but it deserves to be hilarious and fun.  Tower Heist has moments of what could have been.  Murphy jibing Stiller about his asthma attacks in elementary school.  The guys trying to prove themselves worthy to thief-expert Murphy by robbing $50 of goods apiece from a shopping mall.  A classic ferrari dangling from the top of a skyscraper as a trio of guys hang from the car.  These moments definitely help make the film come alive occasionally, but for the most part, nothing else here elevates Tower Heist from being little more than a Saturday afternoon watch on cable.

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Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Here is the toughest movie to sit through all year, and oddly enough it’s not the lowest of the Hollywood dreck, it’s a film depicting some of the harshest human reality.  Lee Daniels directs “Precious: Based on a Novel By Sapphire.”  Forget the ridiculous subtitle, this is a movie meant as a message for victims of abuse (based on a novel I haven’t read), not for gloss, glamor or any of the numerous awards attention its landed.

Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious, an overweight, illiterate sixteen year-old African-American middle schooler who is pregnant with her second child of her own father’s after being raped.  She sits in class without saying a word or even looking others in the eye.  She goes home to a rundown apartment in Harlem only to endure the physical and mental abuse of her bitter and angry mother (Mo’Nique) who blames her for stealing away her boyfriend.  Precious is convinced that she is wasted space–stupid, ugly, and will never find anyone that cares for her.  That is until she is referred to a special school where a teacher (Paula Patton) instructs her how to read and write, and strives to prove to her that she is valuable.

While it may sound like the Lifetime movie of the week, these dramas rarely strive for honesty like “Precious” does.  This movie depicts violence, rape, and abuse as real  and as confusing as it is to our main character.  Much of this is hard to watch, as it should be.  But Lee Daniels isn’t sugarcoating anything, and he’s also not exploiting his topic.  The four actresses in this movie help keep things in check.  Sidbe is heartbreaking.  Mo’Nique is completely absorbed in her ruthless character.  Paula Patton holds her own in the cliche ‘inspirational teacher’ role, Ms. Rain, a role that lends itself more gravity than I would have anticipated.  Perhaps the oddest choice among the four is Mariah Carey (in a role you absolutely won’t recognize her in, because I sure didn’t).  She plays a social worker having nearly as much invested in Precious as Ms. Rain.  Together these actresses are an unstoppable force in a film only hindered by music video type sequences that Precious envisions to take herself out of her tormented life.  Sadly, they take the audience out of the drama once in a while.  But otherwise, this movie sticks to its guns.  “Precious” looks for the very small twinkle of light at the end of a very dark tunnel, and eventually it gets there, but it’s a rough road.

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