Tower Heist assembles a fairly strong crew but viewers may feel their purchase dollars have been, well, heisted. There’s a good idea in here, and some good casting notions, but on a directorial level, the movie just falls flat. As a Blu-ray presentation, the movie is handled well, with solid picture and sound, as well as a raft of extras that clarify where many of the problems originated. Fans of Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy may want to rent this if they’re curious. Fans of director Brett Ratner will undoubtedly want to pick up his latest movie.
Length: 1 hr 45 mins
Genre: Heist Comedy
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC @ 31 mbps
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.6 mbps, up to 5.6 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG-13 (Language and Sexual Content)
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Judd Hirsch, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena, Gabourey Sidibe
Story by: Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Ted Griffin (idea by Eddie Murphy)
Screenplay by: Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Film Rating: 2 ½/5
On paper, Tower Heist should have been a surefire comedy bonanza. It has a great central concept – that the defrauded employees of a luxury residence tower in Manhattan go after the Bernie Madoff-type who took their money. It has what should be a strong cast, led by an unusually straight-laced Ben Stiller, seconded by Eddie Murphy. It has great production values, and it is quite competently made. So what’s the problem? In a single word – Directing. The film simply doesn’t have a strong directorial hand when it comes to the comedy, the management of the cast, or the basic storytelling. And without that hand, the movie simply lurches along from scene to occasionally amusing moment without much of a sense of how it all fits together.
SPOILERS HERE: Tower Heist began as a simple comedy idea from Eddie Murphy – to cast him with a raft of current comic talent including Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle and Chris Tucker and have them pull off a heist on Donald Trump in his tower in New York. Years were spent trying to develop this idea, ultimately ending without success. After the Bernie Madoff scandal hit the news, the idea took on some new life, now retooled to be a justifiable robbery of someone like Madoff by the people who he bilked out of their pensions. This central idea, as developed by Ted Griffin, is a good one, allowing for the audience both to enjoy the heist and not feel particularly guilty about the deserving victim of it. In assembling the production, director Brett Ratner assembled a strong cast. For the lead role of Josh Kovacs, the embittered Tower manager, he recruited Ben Stiller, and was able to have him play the idea relatively straight. For the Bernie Madoff character Arthur Shaw, he recruited Alan Alda, who proceeded to have a great time playing the oily villain. In multiple supporting roles, he assembled a strong lineup, including Tea Leoni as an FBI agent, Matthew Broderick as a brilliant but ruined investor, Judd Hirsch as a Tower executive, and Gabourey Sidibe as a Jamaican Tower maid. As a special coup, Ratner was even able to get Eddie Murphy to rejoin the project with the plum role of Slide, a petty crook who helps plan and execute the heist.
MORE SPOILERS: Unfortunately, just having a good core idea, and a strong cast does not guarantee that the movie itself will come together. And Tower Heist is a classic example of such a movie NOT coming together. First, there are serious holes in the script. While the basic idea is a good one, the script takes several leaps that confound believability. We’re meant to accept that Josh Kovacs, a successful manager of a luxury tower, actually lives in a bad neighborhood next to a tenement, which he happily walks past every day. We’re also meant to accept that one of the tenement residents, Slide, is actually someone that Kovacs has known since elementary school, and that Kovacs knows and remembers him well enough to bail him out of jail – even to know what jail Slide is in. Add to this that the idea is a reveal that only comes out after the point that Kovacs shows up at the jail. BIG SPOILER HERE – SKIP THIS LINE IF YOU’RE STILL READING AFTER ALL THE OTHER WARNINGS: We’re meant to accept that Arthur Shaw somehow smuggled in a car made almost entirely of gold, and assembled it in his penthouse without anyone picking up on the situation, and that this extremely heavy gold vehicle could then be suspended out the 67th story of the tower on a window-cleaners line without a problem. These are basic story logic problems that the movie can’t get past, unless the direction was so sure-handed that the audience could just glide through. But that is not the case here.
MORE SPOILERS: The real downfall of the movie comes with the direction. As I said, the cast itself is a good one, and getting Eddie Murphy to play his part was an especially good idea. Except that Murphy wildly mugs his way through all of his scenes. His entire performance seems to be based on a caricature he’s previously done as a joke on SNL and in his stand-up routines. A better analogy would be to think of Slide as a full-movie enactment of the pose he put on as Axel Foley in the beginning of the first Beverly Hills Cop movie, when he was trying to sell a bogus stolen cigarette shipment. Almost every one of his lines is delivered at full volume in such an arch manner or with such an extreme facial expression that it’s hard to follow at times. At the same time, Casey Affleck is trying so hard to be funny that some of his scenes are almost painfully earnest. I won’t even get into the unfortunate lack of material given to Michael Pena. Add to this that many of the scenes require a deft comic hand. Comedy at its best combines both specific characterizations and crisp timing – as we’ve seen in successful caper comedies in the past (Midnight Run is a great example of this.) An early elevator scene between Ben Stiller and Tea Leoni here illustrates the problem. Some funny ideas are clearly going on, but the director is just letting them sit there. The scene is presented with a master and then multiple angles of coverage between the two actors, without any sense of where the funny is. Directing is not simply a matter of getting multiple angles of coverage – it’s a matter of having a point of view, knowing where the story is going, and in a scene like this, finding the funny. Sometimes this can best be done by staying in the master and letting the scene play as a back and forth between the cast members, with the timing coming naturally from their byplay. Sometimes this is best done by jumping into close-up for reactions and generating the timing with a cutting rhythm. Unfortunately, this scene plays as though the audience was meant to simply accept that these are two appealing, funny people and we should laugh on general principle. And this is but one example of a problem that pops up throughout the movie. It results in multiple scenes just falling flat, and multiple performances (particularly Matthew Broderick) never really catching fire. So there’s a dual directing problem with the movie – a lack of control over the tone of the performances and a lack of control over the storytelling itself.
FINAL MOMENT OF SPOILERS: This isn’t to say that the movie is a bad one, or that there aren’t funny bits in the movie. There are some very amusing moments here and there, and there are some good performances here if you look for them. (Stiller, Leoni, Alda and Hirsch are particularly good.) There are one or two moments that may even get you to laugh out loud. And Ratner, like Ron Howard, at least stages his scenes in a manner where the audience has a basic physical understanding of where everyone in a room is located. There are some clever choices, particularly in the final reel, that at least wrap things up in a nice way. But that’s not the movie that the audience has every right to expect from this lineup of actors and this premise. Fans of Ben Stiller may enjoy him in this movie – it’s a nicely restrained performance. Fans of Alan Alda will enjoy watching him steal most of his scenes. Fans of Eddie Murphy may or may not like this – I suspect they’ll be disappointed with the loss of this opportunity for him to return to his best form from the 1980s. Fans of Brett Ratner’s movies will likely disagree with everything I’ve written in the paragraphs above and will have already purchased this disc with satisfaction.
Tower Heist will be released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition on Tuesday. The Blu-ray has everything from the standard DVD, and adds high definition picture and sound, along with a video diary and the “Second Screen” feature that requires pocket BLU to activate). The Blu-ray also includes the DVD copy of the movie on a second disc. Both editions come with a scene-specific audio commentary by director Brett Ratner, a gag reel, some deleted and alternate scenes and a making-of documentary. (For the Blu-ray, those materials are presented in high definition video). Instructions for downloading a digital copy and getting an Ultraviolet copy are also included in the package.
VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5
Tower Heist is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer that solidly presents Dante Spinotti’s impeccable cinematography. A variety of flesh tones are presented well, the black levels are solid, and the various scenes of greenscreen don’t announce themselves.
AUDIO QUALITY 5/5
Tower Heist is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French, and an English DVS track. This is a fairly loud and directional mix, which is appropriate for the genre. At the same time, it’s not one of those mixes that dials down the dialogue one moment and then blasts the viewer with a cattle prod or loud music. This is really solid work and exactly what people should expect from a Blu-ray release of a recent film.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Tower Heist comes with a safe full of materials, including nearly everything on the DVD edition, coupled with Brett Ratner’s video diaries and the Second Screen function. The Making-of documentary has a peculiar discrepancy between the Blu-ray and DVD versions that we’ll get into in a moment.
PIP Storyboards/Previz – On a few isolated chapters, storyboards or pre-viz animatics are presented for action beats.
The Music of Tower Heist – Throughout the film, PIP notes are shown as to what piece of music is playing on the soundtrack,
whether it be Christophe Beck’s Danny Elfman-styled scoring cues or various songs.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.
D-Box Motion Code – An option is presented to use this motion code in sound systems that can handle it.
pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device. As part of the pocket BLU application, the “Second Screen” adds further content. Also, a digital copy is available for download via the pocket BLU application.
Second Screen – In order to use this, you’ll need to have your tablet or laptop accessing the internet via wi fi on the same router your Blu-ray player uses. This function provides further material in multiple ways:
Storyboards/Previz – When you activate Second Screen, you’ll see a timeline of the movie’s chapters, along with a series of additional content frames. The additional content is identical to the PIP storyboards and Pre-viz available via U-Control. The difference here is that you can view these images on your laptop or tablet, or “flick view” them back onto your HDTV in a larger size.
Commentary with Director Brett Ratner, Editor Mark Helfrich and Co-Writers Ted Griffin & Jeff Nathanson (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD AND BLU-RAY) – Brett Ratner and the guys watch the movie together for this scene-specific commentary that gets into a lot of areas to explain both what’s happening onscreen and what was going on behind the scenes. Ratner and the writers start out by explaining the beginnings of the project and Murphy’s original idea before getting into more of the specifics of what was actually made. The guys are paying fairly good attention here, so they do make the correct note that Slide’s jail guard in one scene is indeed Frank Pesce, who jousted with the Slide caricature in the very first scene of 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop.
The following materials are presented in high definition on the Blu-ray. If they are also available on the DVD, they would obviously be presented in standard definition there:
Tower Heist Video Diary (22:42 Total, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This video diary shows a bit of on-set footage from
multiple days during the production, including Ratner leading rehearsals on location, and hanging out with Donald Trump at video village during the movie’s early shooting days.
Plotting Tower Heist (44:42 Total on Blu, 47:23 Total on DVD, 1080p) (PARTLY DVD EXCLUSIVE) – Here we have a trio of shorter featurettes, broken up by brief sections of a joint interview with both Brett Ratner and Brian Grazer. Most of the featurette material is the usual mutual compliments, intercut with some on-set video and clips from the film. One section is exclusively devoted to the Ferrari replica featured in the movie. Much of the more substantive material is repeated from the commentary track. In a strange move, this documentary is actually longer on the DVD than it is on the Blu-ray. The Blu-ray version is in 6 parts, three of which are the Ratner/Grazer snippets. The DVD version is in 7 parts, the additional part being one more Ratner/Grazer snippet of a little over 2 minutes. Also, the Ratner/Grazer snippets are numbered a little different on the DVD. For the Blu-ray, we end with the third part of their talk. For the DVD, a new third part is inserted into the group, and the same final part from the Blu-ray version is now retitled Part 4. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this was done.
Alternate Ending: 15 Months Later (0:46, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This quick additional scene for the film’s ending is one more moment between Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. It could best be thought of as a kind of bumper to the movie.
Alternate Ending: Lester’s Bar (1:49, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This further additional scene feels more like a proper ending to the movie than what was finally chosen, but it’s also probably a little too neat.
Deleted Scenes (5:58 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This is a collection of 9 additional bits and scene extensions, along with alternate takes of on-set improvs. There’s nothing particularly crucial here, although the last one does dovetail nicely with the second alternate ending presented above.
Gag Reel (4:18, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – Introduced by Casey Affleck in one gag moment, this reel features the usual on-set crack-ups and blown lines from various points in the movie.
DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the theatrical cut of the movie. It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.40:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, Spanish and French (448 kbps) as well as the English DVS track. The commentary is included, as is the longer version of the featurette collection, as well as the alternate endings, deleted scenes and the gag reel.
Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device, as well as for obtaining an Ultraviolet streaming copy to be placed up in the cloud. The instructions include a deadline of July 27, 2012 for activation. I note again that the pocket BLU online menu also includes an option for downloading the digital copy.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film, with markers to note which chapters have applicable U-Control features.
IN THE END...
Tower Heist could have been a very funny caper movie, and it’s really a shame that with this premise and this cast it was unable to succeed. But there’s probably a lesson here – to make a movie like this requires a stronger director than people may have thought. Without that strong hand, you wind up with what happened here, occasionally funny bits located in a much messier assembly of material. CODE WORD: GOLD The Blu-ray release at least contains great HD picture and sound, as well as a generous collection of extras. That may not be enough to motivate more than a rental for fans of Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, but at least it’s something.
February 21, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer