Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tower Heist Does Not Seem Like the Worst

If you're anything like me, you're pretty sick of having Brett Ratner's new movie, Tower Heist, rammed down your throat lately. Universal is pushing the hell out this thing, running ads on every show on every station (and it's really fucking up my Whitney watching). Posters have been plastered all over my local theater's lobby for months. Ben Stiller showed up on Saturday Night Live to promote it. Even Eddie Murphy crawled out from under Bubble Hill to do Letterman, and he hardly ever does TV to sell a movie. Probably because it's usually Meet Dave.

What I'm saying is that there has been a crazy amount of press and advertising for a movie starring the guy from Envy and the guy from The Adventures of Pluto Nash and directed by the guy who made Rush Hour 3. Everything about this movie suggests it's going to be bad, right?

I'm not so sure. And I'm totally going to see it.

There is a certain amount of deeply entrenched snobbiness when it comes to us movie geeks. Our cynical distrust of mass-marketed entertainment means we tend to reject movies that are broadly commercial -- and Tower Heist looks very commercial. Of course, this doesn't apply to comic book movies and genre stuff, which now makes up the near majority of the Hollywood studio output (The nerds have won. Boooo.), so it's only the rare Night at the Museum or Meet the Fockers that draws our "I'm not going to see that shit" ire. But there's nothing wrong with big, commercial movies. It's what Hollywood was built on. Yes, more often than not nowadays commercial means "made by committee," in which we can see the fingerprints of every producer-sanctioned rewrite and marketing department intern and focus group dumbass who fucked things up along the way. The system is sort of broken right now (this applies to much of the genre stuff to which we give a pass as well), but that doesn't mean good movies can't come out of that system.

I actually think Tower Heist could be a huge hit. Audiences have demonstrated over and over again that they want to see Ben Stiller in movies. And no matter how many horrible movies he makes, no matter how many times he pisses on goodwill afforded to him by his eighth "comeback" in Dreamgirls by following it up with a Norbit, people are pulling for Eddie Murphy. Everyone wants to see him be funny in a movie that's good (even though the last time that happened was Bowfinger in 1999, and not nearly enough people went to see that), and Tower Heist looks like it could be that movie. More than anything, though, is that I think the movie very shrewdly is tapping into the anger we're all feeling over the economic apocalypse of the last few years (even those of us who are not Occupying Wall Street, because we can be just as righteously indignant while Occupying our Basement). A few movies have already been made about the collapse, but they're mostly limited release and art house fare like Margin Call or Inside Job. While I don't think mass audiences should be let off the hook for not seeing Inside Job, because everyone should see Inside Job, I also think there's something to be said for articulating national frustration into something that's palatable for everyone. It used to happen a lot in the '70s, but no so much since then.

What's even worse (and I fully expect to get killed on this) is that I don't hate Brett Ratner -- as a filmmaker, anyway. As a human being, he's embarrassingly egotistical and overly confident in his own abilities. He is insufferable. But he's also a totally competent director of Hollywood product. His films are slick and professional. I'm speaking mostly of his first four or five movies; his career has stalled out in recent years, and he seems caught up in just turning out Rush Hour movies over and over. I would argue that the backlash behind X-Men: The Last Stand is what crippled him, but a) I don't really think he's to blame for that movie's failures and b) I don't think backlash bothers Brett Ratner one bit, because he's incapable of believing that he is less than awesome.

I would call Ratner's movies "artless," but that would be suggesting that there is no art to what he accomplishes. There is an art and a particular skill set to crafting well-made product. At the same time, I don't see any of the director in his films: they are slick but impersonal, and while I know for a fact that Ratner fancies himself an auteur of sorts, I simply cannot agree. Rush Hour and The Family Man and Red Dragon don't have much in common with one another except that they appear to have been shot by the same DP. Which leads to this: Ratner also consistently surrounds himself with a talented crew -- he's smart enough to hire professionals that will help mask any inadequacies he may have as a director. Is he a great filmmaker? Absolutely not. But I also don't think he deserves the reputation he has for being a total hack, either. He, of course, only makes it worse for himself by being a huge douche.

I could be wrong about everything. Tower Heist could just be a heavy-handed Ocean's Eleven with lots of mugging and odd, off-putting race humor. It could bomb, but I don't think it will, mostly because there's not much out right now, especially that appeals to everyone. But it could be successful while still being terrible, and that would bum me out a little. For some reason, I'm in the mood to see something like Tower Heist. I don't think I'm alone in that. If nothing else, I'm optimistic in a way that's not particularly cool, in that I like to actually see a movie before I decide it's shit.

Unless it has giant robots in it. Then I just know.


  1. I'd be very tempted to see Tower Heist for the same reasons as you if I had the time these days (personal reasons...involves a lot of feeding and crying, I think you can relate). I think it has the potential to be an Ocean's Eleven or Italian Job (yeah, I liked that one too) type movie...or it could be another insufferable mess starting Stiller AND Eddie Murphy (who's last decent performance to me was playing a cartoon Donkey).

    I'm also with you on Brett Ratner. He's never going to be confused for a great director, but I never got the wrath directed at him. I don't think anyone could have saved X-Men: The Last Stand from being what it was -- I think he did a decent job of putting that script on the screen. Blame hiring the scribes who butchered Steven Gould's novel Jumper. I think you're dead-on about Ratner being smart enough to surround himself with talent. Red Dragon worked because he got a helluva cast together along with the screenwriter and production designer from Silence of the Lambs.

  2. Thanks, Carl. I saw Tower Heist and enjoyed it (it wasn't as good as I hoped), but you're totally fine catching up with it on DVD or Blu-ray. And assuming it's not you that is constantly eating and crying, CONGRATS!

    Your comments made me realize something about Ratner: he basically just copies and steals from people before him. He tried to make Red Dragon feel like Silence of the Lambs, borrowing some of the cast and creative personnel, so that it would fit in the same universe. He did the same with X-Men: The Last Stand, trying to integrate it into the series started by Bryan Singer. His action comedies owe a lot to Martin Brest. At least he's very open about how much he steals, though.