I know people often say that there's no such thing as bad press, but when it comes to film, there's plenty of opportunity for bad press to turn me away from a potential hit. The most recent example that comes to mind is Tower Heist, a flick that was supposed to be Universal's test product for streaming films into our homes mere weeks after they've been released theatrically. Now, that's a dream come true on paper - We wouldn't have to worry about being forced to sit in a busted seat, we wouldn't have to listen to obnoxiously loud macho college guys, snickering girly cliques that think it's a great idea to catch up on the latest gossip in the middle of a movie, and sticky floors would be a thing of the past. No, the real issue would have been the asking price for said home viewing - $59.99. Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks. I'd much rather wait a few months and pay to own the flick for a third of the price. Thankfully, a bunch of theater chains got together and threatened to ban the film from the big screen altogether since the idea would have impacted their business on a large scale, and Universal eventually got the hint and scrapped their on-demand plans. I guess this didn't really bother a lot of people since Tower Heist still performed pretty well at the box office, but I decided to stick to my guns and catch it on Blu-ray at a later date anyway. Needless to say, that time has finally come. It's time for me to set aside my negative bias and see if the film was worth all the buzz - positive, negative or otherwise.
Tower Heist takes us behind-the-scenes of what it's like to work in 'The Tower', an exclusive high-rise apartment complex that not only sells luxury living space, but the rare personal touch in fine living that only money can buy. The staff are a special breed, the finest specimens available in hospitality. They anticipate most of your primary needs, go out of their way to put a smile on your face, and would even keep tabs on your wife while you're secretly meeting with some floozy upstairs. As you could imagine, whoever had the misfortune of being responsible for running such a tight ship probably felt like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders... but not Josh (Ben Stiller). As acting manager of The Tower, he's been responsible for ensuring his crew were experts in Grade-A ass-kissing for well over a decade, yet he's perfectly content with his work and even enjoys the benefits that come with befriending his tenants. One such perk? Investing a large sum of money with The Tower's most successful businessman, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). As a little bonus for his loyal employees, Josh took their pensions and gave them to Shaw so he would work his magic and triple their portfolios. What Josh didn't know however, was that the FBI were getting ready to crack down on Mr. Shaw for fraud. Yep, Mr. Shaw is the kind of guy that would take every red cent you have, spend your hard earned dough to support his lavish lifestyle and then turn around to say, "Well, shucks. Wouldn't you know it? Things just didn't pan out." So, Josh is on the hook for losing everyone's safety net, but instead of hoping that justice will prevail and everyone would get their money back (which is a dream at best), he grabs some friends that were burned by the same guy and enlists the help of a professional criminal (Eddie Murphy) to train them in the fine art of master thievery.
Really, this is the most basic heist plot that someone could have come up with, and considering the fact that Ocean Eleven's very own Ted Griffin was involved with the screenplay, this comes as a pretty big disappointment. I mean, it's not likeTower Heist needed to set out to reinvent the genre or anything, but in order for a comically driven heist to work, it needed to have its own voice. It needed to gel and it needed to be clever every step of the way, and this film just couldn't pull it together. Crafting Tower Heist should have been like trying to stage the perfect magic trick - Carefully constructing the story from the ground up as to not let the veil of illusion dissipate, yet that's exactly what happens before we even get to the big heist. For such a simple premise, the film tries to be much more complicated than it actually is, and the creative team behind-the-scenes clearly overreached their grasp. It should have been clear from the get-go that this was merely going to be a vehicle for allowing numerous A-list actors (Stiller, Murphy, Broderick, Alda, Affleck, Leoni, Sidibe) to provide us with hilarious dialogue exchange and awkward situational comedy, and it would have been up to the talent in front of the camera to make up for the film's numerous flaws, which undeniably stem from an unstable script. Instead, they unwisely chose to go all out and provide us with a funnier version of Ocean's Eleven on just as grand a scale, but what we get after all is said and done is a laborious feature that feels more like 1997's Nothing to Lose. Sometimes I felt like I was watching two movies at once, and if I had to take a stab as to why Tower Heist felt like such an uneven mish-mash, I'd probably lay the blame on Jeff Nathanson's involvement with the screenplay. Taking into consideration his credits include the likes of Speed 2: Cruise Control, Rush Hour 2 / 3, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the film's erratic behavior begins to make sense.
Still though, there's some unforgiveable flaws in the story that there's absolutely no excuse for, the most notable of which is the budding romance between Stiller and Leoni that never amounts to anything. The audience is teased with it for the entirety of the film, yet nothing comes of it by the time the end credits roll. So what was the point in the investment? Why bloat the film's runtime with their relationship at all? Another point in the film that left a sour taste in my mouth was when Josh (Stiller) informs his associates that he's semi-responsible for losing their money. Do they get all hostile and shout, "You did WHAT with our money?!" Do they act like they're ready to put the hurt on someone? Nope. All they do in response is bow their heads and say, "Shucks, we never wanted to have our future gambled away like that Josh. Gawrsh." And that's the end of it. Why isn't Josh threatened with a big fat lawsuit? Is it because he's been so good to his employees over the years? I simply don't buy that.
Yet, despite the numerous issues that would lead one to believe that Tower Heist was all but sunk, the cast were able to pull off a little miracle and still make the film thoroughly funny and entertaining. Stiller is, well, the same character he usually plays (which isn't a bad thing), Casey Affleck is surprisingly effective with his timing and deadpan delivery, Broderick gives a performance that will probably lead to more highly credible comedy projects, but it's Murphy that truly steals the show with the screen time he's allowed. After years and years of Dr. Doolittle's, Haunted Mansion, Daddy Daycare and multiple Shrek incarnations, it's a real treat to finally see him get back to his R-rated roots. I don't know if he just genuinely missed playing more adult oriented roles, or if he was impressed with how his brother Charlie capitalized on the foul-mouthed 'Murphy' shtick we've been missing for so very long. Whatever the reason, it's good to have him back. And Tea Leoni? She's a real treat, although underutilized. I guess her role, like Stiller's, is also the same Leoni we're accustomed to seeing, but again, that's not a bad thing - She can be sleek, sexy and strong all at the same time. She comes across highly intelligent, yet has a lot of spunk. It's no secret that each cast member does well enough on their own, but watching them all interact with one another in Tower Heist is the real reason to watch the film. Yes, the movie has some really terrible things happening on a conceptual level, but if you walk into this flick knowing what to expect - A mindless comedy and nothing more - then you're probably going to end up enjoying what this film has to offer. I know I did. Is it the best movie? No. But does it satisfy enough to make me happy I took the chance to see it? Absolutely.
If there's a single thing about this release I really don't have any qualms about, it's the video presentation. This 1080p, AVC encoded transfer is absolutely stunning (2.40:1). The detail that's present here is simply jaw-dropping, and really does help to sell some of the later scenes in the film that seem too outrageous to believe. Hair, skin and clothing textures, are all flawlessly defined and often pop off the screen with an almost unbelievable level of depth and dimensionality. Colors are vibrant and pop off the screen every chance they get, and contrast and black levels are spot on with the exception of a shot or two, which come off looking a little muddy. I can't blame the transfer for this though, or the usage of some orange looking skin tones while in Josh's apartment, because these tiny missteps in detail can be chalked up to either how the original footage had been shot, or how the director intended them to look. As far as digital issues such as artifacts, DNR, banding or edge-enhancement? Nada. There's no question about it - There's a couple of minor issues with the black levels as I've mentioned in a shot or two, but other than that, you can consider Tower Heist the transfer that proves that comedies are worth upgrading to high-def, too.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is just as impressive as the video. The music is lively and the bass that accompanies it is heavy enough to make you feel the beat, but never punches it enough to make you feel like it's overstated. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout the film's entirety regardless of what shenanigans are happening on screen, and there's an overwhelming sense of pinpoint directionality at all times. It doesn't matter if it's a quiet dialogue scene that only supports subtle environment nuances in the track, or if it's one of the more demanding scenes - You're going to feel like you're right in the movie.
-Audio Commentary with Director Brett Ratner, Editor Mark Helfrich and Co-Writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson - These guys all have a great time discussing the film, and made me feel like I was sitting with them at a table in a pub shooting the shit, rather than listening to some commentary. The end result is a mixed bag. Although they are obviously quite passionate and proud about the work they put in to Tower Heist and give us a lot of information on the film's production, I came out of the commentary feeling like I could have been given a little more of the important info. Furthermore, the jolly atmosphere they provide throughout their conversation seems to be a little self-serving, like they're patting each other on the back more than they're actually focused on providing us with the goods. That being said, this is a nice commentary for casual viewers at home that rarely have the patience to take in a commentary track, and would still recommend that you listen to this whenever you get the chance.
-U-Control - Two U-Control experiences are available, and although this sounds impressive... well, it just isn't. One track only provides behind-the-scenes info on a handful of the chapters that make up the film, and the other is a mere text pop-up feature that details the music used throughout the film. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.
-Second Screen Interactive Experience - You can sync up multiple devices with the film at home and enjoy even more bonus content on them while you watch the flick. Personally, I never understood this kind of 'experience' track. It's just a bad idea, isn't it? I mean, I'm sitting on my couch at home and I'm ready to watch a movie. I don't want to have to sit there nursing an iPad or my laptop just to be able to enjoy some special features. Feature them on the disc, or you can forget me investing my time (as a consumer) to 'enjoy' your little 'experience'.
-Brett Ratner's Video Diary - 23 minutes of real behind-the-scenes material that hasn't been chopped up with promotional advertising and cast and crew interviews. This is a real treat. Don't miss this one!
-Plotting Tower Heist - This is actually a six part documentary about the film's production, and rings in at a grand total of 45 minutes. Honestly, between this and the previous featurette, you're probably better off skipping the commentary entirely in favor of these instead.
-Alternate Endings - There are two alternate endings here. One which, wouldn't you know it, actually brings some sort of closure to the love story between Leoni and Stiller's characters. The fact that they actually had some kind of resolution for this filmed and didn't include it in the movie is kind of a slap in the face. The other ending is sort of a chintzy little bit between Murphy and Stiller, and I can see why it was left on the cutting room floor.
-Deleted/Alternate Scenes - The film feels a little bloated as it is, so after viewing these clips, I think it was wise for Ratner to leave them on the cutting room floor.
-Gag Reel - The cast obviously had a blast filming this movie, and the gag reel they left behind as a result is a testament to that. It's absolutely hilarious, and I would recommend you take the time to watch this fun featurette.
Also included? Some BD Live functionality, My Scenes Bookmarking, as well as a DVD and Digital Copy of the film (available in Ultraviolet / Digital Copy).
Tower Heist has its share of problems, but thanks to the talented cast, this film was saved and actually ended up being really funny and entertaining. It's no Ocean's Eleven or even The Hangover for that matter, but I can think of plenty of worse ways to spend a night at home. Just keep your expectations in check and don't expect anything more than an above average, mindless comedy. There's some interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes in the supplemental package, and the A/V presentation is top notch. Recommended.