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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War Games

War GamesI saw War Games years ago when I was about six or seven years old, and my perception the world pretty much extended to the end of the hallway at Pershing Elementary School.  I knew about the Russians, but did not understand the Cold War.  I knew about “duck and cover” drills, but we never had them at my school.  I also knew about video games, but out little Mac 512K-E was mostly limited to snake and shufflepuck.  So when, as a kid, I watched 16-year-old computer David Lightman (Matthew Broderick, in his  pre-Ferris days) play a computer game of tic-tac-toe to save the world from nuclear annihilation…I was really confused.

I recently figured it was high time to give John Badham’s suspenseful cold war film another shot.  And while the film doesn’t have the same social impact it once might have, it does remain an interesting look at a rather singular time in our history when the threat of nuclear war was not only real but, in the minds of many people, imminent.  Lightman is a lovable slacker who smarts off to his teachers at school and spends his evenings and weekends at video arcades and hacking into computer systems with his monochromatic PC at home.  And while this character could have been played by just about any teenage actor, it’s Matthew Broderick’s wide-eyed innocent charm that really sell the role.  He’s on relatively good terms with his parents, he has an entirely innocent friendship with his classmate Jennifer (Ally Sheedy), and his hacking is mostly good-natured fun.  He’s not out to ruin anyone’s day, it’s just that school bores him because he’s too smart for the system–and he knows it.

War Games Matthew Broderick Ally Sheedy

David Lightman: saving the world, getting the girl, and making it home in time for dinner.

When Lightman sees an ad for a new computer game, he tries to hack in to the company’s systems so he can play their game before it’s released to the public.  Soon enough he comes across a computer system with a list of games like “Chess,” “Tic Tac Toe,” and “Global Thermonuclear War.”  Thinking he has found a repository of top-secret computer games, he and Jennifer decide to try out the last game, pretend they are the Russians, and launch a volley of missiles at the United Stated.  All good fun, right?  Well, it would be except for one little detail:  Lightman didn’t know it, but he had really found his way into a top-secret NORAD computer mainframe and had just flipped the switch on World War III.

Pretty soon all heck breaks loose.  Baby Matthew Broderick is busted by the government and taken to the NORAD underground Top Secret Lair where military dudes with Texas accents and cigars the size of drain pipes are blathering about doomsday, barking out DEFCON status updates, and glowering at Lightman very sternly while telling him in no uncertain terms to stay put.  Sure enough he breaks the heck out of there, gets his friend-girl to buy him a plane ticket home, and the two of them track down Dr. Stephen Falken, the creator of the WOPR military computer that is about to blow up the world, because he is the only one who can stop the madness.  In the end, the fate of all civilization comes down to a gigantic game of Tic-Tac-Toe and the hope that if a machine can learn how futile nuclear war is, maybe we humans can too.  Aww.

Global Thermonuclear War

Don't laugh, folks. This used to be cutting-edge computer graphics.

Things are perhaps more than a tad predictable in War Games, but it’s a suspenseful movie with just enough coming-of-age moments for Lightman to keep us cheering for him.  It’s a classic geek story with a likable, nerdy hero who gets the girl in the end, and despite some over-the-top performances here and there (not to mention the very idea of putting nuclear launch capabilities solely in the hands of a computer…*ahem*  I’m looking at you, James Cameron), War Games is an enjoyable film whose message still holds up today, even if our cultural zeitgeist is more focused on terrorism than nuclear war.  And it might not be long until the two become one and the same, so perhaps the message is in fact just as relevant now as it ever was…


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