I was very pleasantly surprised. I guess I should have had faith in Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy’s ability to pick a script that didn’t suck, but honestly the trailers made this look like a bad 48 Hours remake and given the fact that for the past few years Eddie has been doing Daddy Daycare and the like, I was expecting something painful. Not in the least.
The fact is, this movie is well written, clever, and above all funny without being goofy schtick. The humor is subdued enough to make you appreciate it, as well as the acting ability of the main characters as they deliver the lines. Eddie Murphy’s character Slide does borrow heavily from Reggie Hammond, but does not reprise the character entirely and makes this one less clever and sophisticated, but much more street smart and, to be honest, believable. In fact, all the characters are extremely believable, especially Josh Kovacs, played by one of my favorite actors Ben Stiller, star of the great Zoolander (Derek Zoolander Center for Children who can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to do Other Stuff Good Too image courtesy of the movie t shirt category).
The story is of Josh Kovacs, manager and majordomo of the most plush building in all of Manhattan, the Tower. While working for some of the richest people on the planet he is living in a slum and gets hassled by Eddie Muphy’s character Slide as he goes to work every day. He is aided by a dedicated staff of doormen, security personal, and cleaning staff including his brother-in-law concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck – Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone), veteran doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson – Everyday People, the Good Heart, Keane), new elevator operator Enrique Dev’Reaux (Micheal Peña – Shooter, Million Dollar Baby, Crash), and maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidebe – Precious. That’s it. Glad to see her adding to her filmography). Their richest resident is Arthur Shaw (cough cough Bernard Madoff cough cough), played excellently by the great Alan Alda (Mash of course. A few others but Mash is more than enough), who gets arrested for securities fraud after taking every employees pensions and life savings.
I’d like to add a thought here on the brilliance of casting Mr. Alda for this. If there is one thing the otherwise weak Schwarzenegger film the Running Man taught us is that if you take a beloved American icon and cast him in the role of a villain, he somehow seems much more evil. It worked for Richard Dawson, and in all ways works great for Alan Alda here.
In comes FBI agent Claire Denham (played by the one time love of my life, Téa Leoni. If you want to see why I loved her set the way back machine to 1992 and watch a short lived comedy called Flying Blind. She also starred in Deep Impact, Jurassic Park III, and the Family Man. She was also married to sex addict David Duchovny. She has gotten older, but still looks super hot), who caught Shaw and now has to see him under house arrest in his fabulous penthouse. She gets hammered one night and tells Kovacs that Shaw must still have a secret stash of money somewhere in his place. That is when Kovacs decides to rob Shaw. He just got fired for going nuts on Shaw and recruits evicted former tenant Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Glory, Godzilla 1998 (eww)), Charlie, Enrique, and Odessa. They quickly realize they don’t have the skill set required and recruit career criminal Slide, who aids them in the robbery while forcing them to prove they have what it takes to rob someone in humorous ways.
Crime comedy hijinks ensues. I don’t want to give away much of the plot, as I liked it a lot and hope you all go see it, but at one point the ridiculous meter dips so deep into the red it actually hits infrared. Other than that the movie is fun, super entertaining, and ends in what I thought was the most appropriate way.
The stars. Great, fun story well told. Two stars. I would like to give a star for every great actor in this film, but that would actually skew it too far in the star direction. It’s a good movie, but it’s no Wrath of Khan. Murphy, Stiller, Alda, Leoni, even Matthew Broderick would be five stars. I’ll just give three for great casting. Very real characters. One star. Dialog and direction were great. One star. No annoying subplots or unnecessary characters. Even the weird Russian girl (Nina Arianda – Midnight in Paris) had a significant role. One star. An ending that made sense (mostly) and didn’t have any sugar frosting smeared on it to make it more palatable to the unwashed morons of this country. One star. Two bonus stars for an overall pleasant movie experience that exceeded my expectations. Total: eleven stars.
The black holes. For a movie that seemed to work hard to stay funny in the real world, when they got to the actual robbery they went in a really stupid direction and completely blew out my suspension of disbelieve circuit (sorry, but elementary violations of the laws of physics even a grade school child could spot grinds me like sandpaper underwear). Two black holes. The humor, which until the robbery had been pretty low key and subtle, took a left turn down Three Stooges alley and cruised there for most of the rest of the movie (ever see the one where they are skyscraper construction workers?). Tonal shifts 3/4ths of the way through the movie rarely work. One black hole. There was a romantic undercurrent that felt really undeveloped. One black hole. Total: four black holes.
I will say that this movie was rated PG-13 and in all ways worked at that rating. It was one that didn’t need to go any deeper into R. Kudos to director Brett Ratner (who managed to insert a speaking cameo). However, Brett, you are going to have to come up with a few more great movies to make up for X-Men Last Stand and Rush Hour.
So a total of seven stars, a great score. Should you see it? Absolutely. Do you need to see it on a big screen? Not really. There are a couple scenes towards the end that benefit from being on a bigger screen, but like most comedies this one will do just fine on a TV. Good second date film, IMO, in that it is funny, but not super sexual. Also, none of the people in this movie are super Hollywood hot, so unless she has a thing for Eddie Murphy you won’t lose anything in comparison.
Thanks for reading. I fell way behind in my movie watching this last week and will try to nail a few more down this week. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. By the way, I did great the first day at the Warhammer Tournament and got my ass beat on the second by a guy I hate like I hate the Star Wars Holiday Special, so kind of a bummer weekend. I probably would have done better sitting on my ass at home writing more.