November 8, 2011 by Zack
Oh those heist movies. Cute little capers. I don’t think you can go too wrong when you involve Eddie Murphy in them; and even though this one is fairly standard with its typical implausabilities and somewhat thin characters, it is rather entertaining. I call movies like these “getaway movies”. Normally these come out in the summer or around the holidays. This one’s a little early. This would be a great movie to leave the Holiday family woes behind and just enjoy 2 hours of peace and a few laughs. But if you’d still like to get away for 2 hours of your real life (do you still have leaves to rake? that annoying cousin’s birthday party to attend?), then I’d still recommend seeing it.
Just to be clear, it’s not all that great. The concept is similar to “Oceans 11” (which is a better film): a group of charismatic people get together to pull of a robbery. In this case, it’s not elites, it’s average joes. Ben Stiller plays Josh, the building manager of The Tower, a luxurious hotel in New York City. He’s rather mild mannered and well liked by his employees that include Charlie (Casey Affleck), Dev’reaux (Michael Pena), and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). He’s also well liked by an extremely wealthy client, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who winds up being caught in a Ponzi scheme that winds up including all of them in his losses. The fraudulent money he threw around was used by Josh to put into their pensions, leaving them all with nothing. Lester (well played by Stephen Henderson), the doorman, attemps suicide, and it strikes a chord with Josh who wants to do the right thing and get their money back. The problem is, he takes out his angst on Shaw’s prized possession: a Ferrari 250. So now Shaw, who believes he will be found innocent, wants to charge Josh and that little incident also costs him his job. It also costs Charlie’s and Dev’reaux’s. Charlie’s upset because his wife is pregnant and he needs to work.
But Josh believes Shaw is guilty, and teams up with some oddfellows to rob Shaw of some misplaced money after a drunken evening with an FBI agent, Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), leads to her leaking information about a safe being in Shaw’s penthouse suite somewhere.
Josh enlists Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) who was recently evicted from the building because he’s broke and was fired from Merrill Lynch, and a guy he knows from crossing paths every morning (and his childhood, apparently), named Slide (played by Eddie Murphy).
So you have the ingredients for a fun little caper. Enough of it works to be enjoyable. I wish it wouldn’t have relied so much on the standard issue heist plot; but I suppose in the hands of someone like Brett Ratner, what can you really expect? The performances are all well done, but of course the stand out is Eddie Murphy. In recent years, I thought he should scale it back a bit and maybe take a supporting role in something to get back on his feet. Seeing him here, where he’s most comfortable being a fast-talking criminal who still can light up the screen, made me want to see more of him. He’s just underused for some reason.
This script was originally intended for an all black cast that included Murphy, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle in which a group of employees attempt to rob the Trump Plaza. In a way, I wish that would’ve been made instead of this. With some of the edgy comedians in it, perhaps Eddie Murphy would’ve still been lost in the shuffle; but you’ve got great supporting actors there. Not to say that Broderick and Stiller can’t hold their own–but their characters just don’t allow them to do much, either. And both actors play their characters completely straight; something I don’t think we’d see out of guys like Rock or Chappelle, or Tracy Morgan (another rumored star attached).
Some of the rewrites included screenwriter Ted Griffin, whose work I’ve always been impressed with (including “Ravenous”, “Best Laid Plans”, and of course, “Oceans 11”), and you can see some of his sharp wit and dialog fused in the script. With some of the characters, good dialog is necessary. Obviously, with Murphy, the guy could write his own and improv.
A lot of the climax is hard to believe, and I still think they missed an opportunity to make a Ferris/Ferrari joke somewhere seeing as how they cast Matthew Broderick who isn’t exactly Mr. Movie Star anymore (and that film is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year).
But again, this is not a very creative director at the helm. And so we’re left with a fairly garden variety film that is amusing enough to pass; but I think we could’ve been in for a lot more treats.