It’s like someone thought of his name as a joke, so when uttered, it would bring to mind everything flawed and corrupt about Hollywood. To know Brett Ratner is to loathe him. You dislike his success, his flamboyance, him female prospects (unbelievable as they are), his populist attitude toward film-making, his smarmy attitude, his inherent likability and his black credibility. In fact, dislike of Mr. Ratner’s individual person is so strong that his film-making abilities are almost an afterthought. It seems people never evaluate his work or give it serious consideration apart from their critiques of his character, which is odd, because if you evaluate his work with others of his ilk–the action comedy thriller director–his work is far superior to the rest of the pack (McG, Les Mayfield, Louis Leterrier, Simon West). Overall, Ratner is more assured, clean, concise director than people give him credit.
Where some just see a simple and lazy director, I see clear vision and a director who is able to create a filmic atmosphere that allows his actors free range of their comedic/theatrical abilities. In a way, his style is reminiscent of Richard Donner. Like Donner, he is able to work within many different genres, bringing the same consistent level of film expertise, but not with an overbearing style, which connects him to the great directors of yesteryear’s studio system. In the system, a director with a firm, knowledgeable base of film expertise would be called upon to direct films ranging in style, formula and genre (see Micheal Curtiz and Howard Hawks). If you don’t believe me look at his work. Ratner has directed many different types of films, ranging from comedy thriller, Money Talks (1997); action comedy, The Rush Hour series (1998); human comedy, The Family Man (2000); sci-fi thriller, X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006); horror thriller, Red Dragon (2002); espionage caper, After the Sunset (2004); and now with Tower Heist (2011), he is tackling the heist film. He has met each genre with varying degrees of success (Money Talks, Rush Hour 1 and 2, The Family Man, and Red Dragon) and failures (Rush Hour 3, After the Sunset and X3) However, whether a success or failure, his film-making is never without merit and always assured.
Such describes Tower Heist, a film which succeeds as much as it fails. Leaving an uneven, yet entertaining, well-directed movie. So many review of heist films waste time with pointless synopses; accordingly, I will cut straight to the point: Alan Alda wrongs his employees. His employees decide to take out their righteous anger by stealing millions of dollars that he has hidden. Simple enough, but everyone knows the real dynamic of a heist film is not the heist itself (well, partly). Instead, it’s the dynamic between the stealer and steal-ee, and the subsequent rumblings within the group of thieves. As for the former, the conflict is of standard fare, Alda is serviceable as the villain who wrongs the little people, but aside from the inciting act of stealing their money in a Ponzi scheme , his character offers no real counter to the righteous thieves–except being there, being white and being evil (maybe this is scary in real life, but less so in film where villains are more deeply felt and grandiose). This leaves the other half; our modern-day Robin Hoods, led by Ben Stiller.
Stiller, who has adopted an amnesic Brooklyn brogue, is desperately trying to mask his good-guy-buffoon act with a thin, tough-guy act which fails miserably, though his attempt is endearing. Then there’s thief-for-hire, Eddie Murphy, a coup casting decision for Ratner–a Murphy devotee who’s trying to bring his idol back to his place of 80s glory. Murphy is ratcheted up to 11, screaming jokes at the audience and totally forsaking his more measured comedic performances in such films as 48 hours, Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, Coming to America, Boomerang and Harlem Nights. Matthew Broderick shows up and acts so pitifully that we’re tempted to forgive him for sleepwalking through the last ten years of his career, and Casey Affleck wandered over from the Oceans 14 set. As it happens, the only bright spot is Michael Pena, giving a hilarious performance as a ghetto-fied Puerto-Rican hipster slacker, out doing everyone in film with his comedic schtick. Add a drunk-looking Tea Leoni calling in a favor to Brett from her Family Man days, and you have a cast, that for the most part, doesn’t show up to play at all–Gabourey Sidibe is in the film with a Jamaican accent, so I’ve chosen to forget her involvement in the film.
This leaves the success of the film in Ratner’s hands, and I must say, even amid the display of comedic mediocrity, he does manage to craft a pretty slick, well-directed movie. Ratner creates some nice set pieces: the steal-something food court scene and elevator car lift are standouts. Furthermore, the film is directed with a clean, clear sense of movement and style around New York city. Unfortunately, unlike his previous films, Rush Hour and Money Talks in particular, his actors just don’t come alive–even though he sets them up with a pretty nice pitch. The result: his capable directing looks flat and uninspired.
So actually, no one showed up to play except Ratner, and you are only left to wonder how the film Tower Heist would have fared in its original inception as the “black Oceans’ 11” starring Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle, but alas, Tower Heist will only go down as another strike against a talented director and his misdirected, uninspired crew.