I cannot stand Brett Ratner. 'Red Dragon' is the only one of his films that I find worthy of re-watching. Even before learning that 'Tower Heist' was a Ratner movie, I dreaded it based on the awful trailer. Learning that it was a Ratner film only made me dread seeing it even more. When controversy broke out because theater owners were up in arms over the plan to have 'Tower Heist' stream on-demand concurrently with its theatrical release, I figured, "No wonder. Ratner is trying to recoup as much money from this turd as quickly as possible." But upon finally screening the movie, I was surprised to discover that it's actually not as bad as it looks. Mind you, it's not great, but if you can trudge through the terrible first act, you'll find the other two acts make for a fluffy and funny if mindless comedy.
Imagine 'Ocean's Eleven' with revenge. Wait, that's what 'Ocean's Eleven' already is – a heist movie fueled by revenge. Scratch that. Imagine 'Ocean's Eleven,' where the crew attempting the heist is trying to steal back money they lost in a Ponzi scheme and the mark is a Bernie Madoff-esque bastard (Alan Alda). After getting busted by the FBI, he's under house arrest in the penthouse of his New York City high-rise. He cannot leave his apartment (there are two FBI agents at the door at all times) and is under constant video surveillance. Those sound like the perfect seemingly impossible circumstances for a heist movie, right?
Ben Stiller plays the bumbling ring-leading manager who's hellbent on getting his money back, as well as the money of all of his hard-working employees. Eddie Murphy is the experienced criminal that Stiller employs as their teacher. Nearly every line that comes out of his mouth is hilarious and not suitable for work. Casey Affleck is a kinda-dumb soon-to-be father who honestly needs the cash. Again, Affleck shines – even when the project itself is much lower than what he's capable of. Gabourey Sidibe plays a safe-cracking 'Precious' with a Jamaican accent. I don't mean to be insensitive, but what else can she play? Matthew Broderick plays an evicted tenant who has nothing to do with the Ponzi scheme and no justification for committing this crime, yet he's included on the heist anyway. When his character is first introduced, it's sad how bad grown-up Ferris Bueller is. But when Eddie Murphy enters the picture, Broderick steps it up and becomes a hilarious addition to the movie. It's almost as if Murphy's better-than-usual performance inspired him. Michael Peña plays a guy with no real skill set or defined purpose on the team who, like Broderick's character, lost no money in the scheme. And Téa Leoni plays the FBI agent trying to put Alda away for good. Next to Murphy, Leoni is easily the second-best part of 'Tower Heist.'
Because there are so many characters in this ensemble piece, the drawn-out first third of the film is slow and boring. It isn't until Murphy enters the plot full-time that the jokes stop falling flat and the movie actually becomes enjoyable. Considering Murphy hasn’t been funny in a live-action role since 1999's 'Bowfinger,' the praise he receives for his performance seem like they could be reality-shattering. But I'll stand by my word and say that he is back and just as entertaining as he was in his classics 'Beverly Hills Cop,' '48 Hours,' 'Coming to America' and 'Trading Places.' Stiller plays the same character he always plays, so it's Murphy, Affleck, Broderick, Peña, and Leoni that carry this movie comically. And believe me, that's all 'Tower Heist' has going for it. Take away the comedy from those five and you've got nothing but a simple Razzie contender. At least it's funny.
'Tower Heist' isn't anything to race out and buy, but it's a whole lot better than it looks and more entertaining than most of Ratner's other movies.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has given 'Tower Heist' a combo pack release that includes a BD-50, a DVD and your choice of a Digital Copy or and Ultraviolet copy. Both discs and the slip with the digital download code are housed in a standard two-disc blue keepcase that vertically slides into a slick and shiny embossed cardboard keepcase. The pre-menu content on the 'Tower Heist' Blu-ray is odd. There's a new 100-year anniversary Universal vanity reel, trailers for 'Honey 2,' 'Johnny English Reborn' and 'Hop,' and a commercial for April 1, 2012 pay-per-view event Wrestlemania XXVII with The Rock. Since when did they start advertising broadcasts? Luckily, all of these features can be skipped over.
'Tower Heist' has been given a strong 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that leaves very little to be desired. It's sharp, crisp, clean, clear and detailed.
From the early morning opening of a darkened New York City, you'll immediately notice the awesome black levels. Aside a few nighttime street-level shots where blacks lose their power, the levels are deep and strong without chewing up any details. Fleshtones are mostly natural, aside from the scenes where the golden hue of the color palette wax strong. Being a movie centered on money (gold), this is obviously a directorial decision and not an encoding flaw. Most of the color scheme supports this golden idea, but the one color that really pops is the cherry red of Steve McQueen's Ferrari. Yes, there's a reason for that too.
Aliasing shows up from time to time, but not in grand fashion. You'll notice it on air duct vents, clothing patterns, et cetera. Bands, artifacts, edge enhancement, noise and DNR are not an issue, but one annoying problem pops up a few times. Mind you, this is not a flaw of the disc or transfer, but one of filmmaking. Certain shots have focal issues. For example, in a close-up of Ben Stiller's face, you'll notice ever pore that textures his face. But when you look at his hair, which is in the same focal range, the hair will be blurry. The same will go for whatever is featured in the lower part of the frame. This odd problems doesn't stick around with frequency, but when it's there, you'll notice it.
'Tower Heist' features a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that falls short of expectations. Literally, the menu audio is far more exemplary than that of the main feature.
The musical score that kicks off 'Tower Heist' is strong and well-mixed. First, the slick bassline starts in the center channel. Then rhythmic shakers are added that emit from the front channels. When the last element is added, the drums, they break out of the surround and rear channels, creating a full and immersive balance. It's too bad that the rest of the audio in the mix doesn't follow suit with the music.
The effects in the mix are strong when scenes are set in the busy NYC streets - sounds of honks, screeches and sirens fill the channels and create a great environmental ambiance – but that's about it. Aside from a getaway scene in the beginning of the movie that employs music, effects and LFE, there really aren't many instances that warrant citing. The rear and surround channels are typically silent, giving the mix of 'Tower Heist' a mostly two-dimensional flat feeling. The only time that imaging is used is during the main menu.
'Tower Heist' had two things working against it: one, the terrible trailer, and two, director Brett Ratner. When I screened it theatrically, I expected to hate it – but it actually defied the odds and kept my attention. The first act gives it an unfunny, rocky start, but once Eddie Murphy's character enters the mix, 'Tower Heist' improves rapidly. Everything seems to get better with his entrance. I expected to only have enjoyed the movie so much because of the low expectations, but upon watching it a second time for this Blu-ray review, it not only held strong, but seemed better than I remembered. I even bumped my rating of the movie from 3 stars to 3-1/2 stars because of how much it kept me entertained. The Blu-ray itself looks great, but could have benefited from a stronger audio mix. For the most part, the extras are great, extensively walking you through the all three phases of production. These are features that you would expect on from a Blu-ray of a serious film, not one for a comedic heist movie. As much as I never thought I would, but I give 'Tower Heist' the Luke Hickman stamp of approval. Recommended.