Murphy Steals The Show
By Carl Kozlowski
There are few actors in Hollywood history whose careers have been as utterly confounding as Eddie Murphy’s. Exploding onto the big screen from a three-year stint as one of the most wildly talented people ever to emerge from Saturday Night Live, Murphy made three major comedy classics right off the bat in 48 Hours, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop before apparently deciding to take nearly any paycheck that came along.
In the nearly three decades since 1984’s original Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy has made three great movies—Coming to America, The Nutty Professor and Dreamgirls—in between flops and the occasional bland family film. There is almost no one who has disappointed his fans as much, yet Murphy had so much magic initially that fans have always held out hope that somehow he would get his mojo back.
Well, it looks like he’s finally found it.
In the new comedy caper Tower Heist, Murphy plays Slide, a comically streetwise, trash-talking thug who gets hired by an unlikely trio of cowardly losers to guide them through an elaborate robbery.
That trio—played by Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck and Michael Pena—are coworkers in America’s most extravagant residential tower, and they are out to get revenge on a Bernie Madoff-style investment guru Arthur Shaw, played by Alan Alda, who occupies the building’s penthouse and lost the building staff’s pension plan when his Ponzi scheme collapsed in ruins.
Teaming up with a building maid (Gabourney Sidibe of Precious fame) who has a surprising set of skills and a forlorn middle-aged resident (Matthew Broderick), who’s about to lose his apartment in foreclosure, the hapless half-dozen embark on an absolutely brilliant and thoroughly hilarious plan that takes a turn so wildly original that Tower Heist should become an instant classic.
To give away any aspect of the plot would be a crime in itself. The expertly written film comes from Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can) and Ted Griffin (Ocean’s Eleven), two of the best caper writers working.
Their script not only combines an ingenious crime, funny dialogue and well-rounded characters, but also hits a bull’s-eye for timeliness by tapping into the frustrations ordinary Americans feel against the Wall Street con artist. Shaw indisputably deserves to go down hard, his fall adding to the satisfaction of seeing a team of average Joes catching a very big break as Robin Hoods of our time.
What I can mention is that the cast goes even deeper, with Tea Leoni as the tough-talking yet sexy FBI agent who’s on the chase against both Josh and the heroic heist team, and Judd Hirsch as Stiller’s meddling boss. While Stiller plays his lovable loser persona to perfection, the movie is stolen by Broderick and Murphy in their best roles in years, with huge bonus points for the fact that Broderick spends his best scenes engaged in peril with a red Ferrari that’s a dead ringer for the beauty he drove in his greatest role ever as Ferris Bueller.
Director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour trilogy, X-Men 3) often is derided as a lowest-common-denominator hack, but a movie like Tower Heist deserves to rebrand his reputation as a rare director who can keep the bouncy, fun spirit of 1980s films alive.
But it’s Murphy, however, who brings the film to its most vibrant life, as he mixes jive-talking menace in the first half with smooth-talking deception in the second in a role that taps into every one of his strengths.
Combined with the fact that he helped organize the whole film as one of its executive producers and is generating buzz for his upcoming stint as next February’s Oscars host, perhaps there’s hope that he might finally feel the hunger necessary to achieve greatness again and maintain it this time. At the bare minimum, Tower Heist is one hell of a first step to redemption.