Tower Heist

November 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck
Directed by: Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour 3”)
Written by: Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s 11”) and Jeff Nathanson  (“Rush Hour 3”)

Can anyone remember the last time comedian Eddie Murphy was actually funny? No, voicing an animated donkey with a love for waffles doesn’t count. I’m talking about Murphy debating boxing greats in “Coming toAmerica” or hustling his way into a swanky suite in “Beverly Hills Cop.” Hell, I’d even take him parodying Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood during his “Saturday Night Live” days if it would help me forget “Norbit.” Wherever you were in the 80s, chances are you were laughing at something Murphy was doing on screen or on stage. Nowadays, you’d probably have better luck being entertained by his older brother Charlie.

If you believe the hype, however, Murphy’s return to glory comes at full force with “Tower Heist,” a comedy crime caper that originally started as an idea in 2005 for Murphy to team up with a host of other black comedians including Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle and Martin Lawrence. When that overly-ambitious idea fell through, “Tower Heist” became a poor man’s version of “Ocean’s 11” and even enlists “Ocean’s” screenwriter Ted Griffin and supporting actor Casey Affleck. But “Ocean’s” this is not. And while it’s true that Murphy provides his best comedy outing since 1996’s remake of “The Nutty Professor” (I still don’t understand the love for “Bowfinger”), he’s not given as much screen time as you’d think for someone who’s billed so high. Honestly, this is a Ben Stiller movie and Murphy is just coming along for the ride.

Still, the ride has its moments with a solid cast who could easy make an impact off the bench in lieu of George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon. In fact, the diverse makeup of characters and personalities is what makes the movie casually fun, at least for the first half of the heist. In the film, a group of hotel employees plot to take back the money they lost in a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Wall Street billionaire and tenant in the high-rise. With little experience in thievery, the team, which includes Stiller, Affleck, Michael Peña (“The Lincoln Lawyer”), and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”), recruit “Slide” Dalphael (Murphy), a common criminal with the know-how to exact revenge. Also joining in is actor Matthew Broderick (“Election”) as a former Wall Street investor who goes bankrupt because of Shaw’s shady business ethics.

With every cog in place, you’d think this comedy machine, even directed by industry tool Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour 3”), would run a little smoother. While the setup works well enough, the heist itself isn’t very creative or executed on the page very well. What’s left is an amusing team of misfits bumbling around aimlessly in search of a disappointing payoff more ridiculous than a humanitarian award named after Bernie Madoff.

To a lesser extent, this might be a comeback for Murphy, but until he can stand front and center as the leading man he once was, it’s still difficult to forgive him for the last 15 years (“Meet Dave,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” “I Spy”). Hosting the Academy Awards this coming February just might be what he needs to prove “Tower Heist” wasn’t a fluke.

Shrek Forever After

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (“Sky High”)
Written by: Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”)

“Shrek Forever After” is being labeled as “The Final Chapter” of a 9-year-long fairytale franchise and well it should be. It’s a sequel that’s squeezing out what little magic is left in it’s ogre-sized tank. It might be superior to the slaphappy third installment in 2007, but there’s still not enough originality to make it a truly happily-ever-after.

In “Forever After,” DreamWorks Animation and screenwriters Josh Klausner (“Date Night”) and Darren Lemke (“Lost”) toss a little of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” into the mix as a more mature Shrek returns to a Shrek-less version of Far Far Away.

With the everyday repetition of his family life (changing baby ogre diapers isn’t as adventurous as he thought it would be), Shrek doesn’t feel like the same nasty ogre that once instilled fear into everyone. Instead of running for the hills when Shrek is near, the villagers now look upon him as a celebrity.

In an attempt to revisit his glory days, Shrek signs a pact with the villainous Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn), who has held a grudge with the lovable ogre since he ruined him chance to take over the kingdom years ago. All Shrek wants is one more day where he can feel like the ogre he used to be. Rumple, however, has other ideas.

Transporting into an alternative universe where he was never born, the Shrek realizes that a lot has changed in Far Far Away. Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is now a strapping warrior leading an underground ogre resistance; Donkey (Eddie Murphy) pulls a carriage for some evil, whip-whapping witches; and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) has packed on a few pounds and become a lazy house cat.

To break the spell and return to his regular life, Shrek must get Fiona to fall in love with him all over again and share in “True Love’s Kiss.” Isn’t breaking a spell with a kiss as listless as a storybook tale can go these days?

As in the last two “Shrek” movies, it’s Banderas’ Puss in Boots who steals most of the scenes. Even though there’s not much swordplay in this last film, the now pudgy feline with the Spanish accent is able to match the energy of the new characters, including an army of personable ogres (Craig Robinson and Jane Lynch give funny performances). Cameos by the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon) are also enjoyable. One of the best parts of the movie is when Gingy gives his best impression of a gladiator chopping down fierce animal cookies in a coliseum.

Despite some character highlights, “Shrek Forever After” doesn’t reach the level of the first two installments. It may be the darkest of the series, but it’s light on charm and all around cleverness.

Imagine That

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Yara Shahidi
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”)
Written by: Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”)

Eddie Murphy throws us for a loop with “Imagine That,” a comedy that is not half bad when compared to the movies he’s been offering up over the last few years including “Meet Dave,” “Norbit,” and “Daddy Day Care.”

Still, if something is not half bad, it’s only logical that it’s not half good either. While Murphy shows us some signs of life, it’s not enough to resuscitate the entire picture from a slow and exasperating crawl to the finish line.

In “Imagine That,” Eddie Murphy plays Evan, a stock market guru who is working hard to land a promotion at his financial company. A problem arises, however, when his coworker rival John Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), a pseudo-Indian philosopher, makes a few better investments than Evan and is soon the trusted advisor to turn to by clients.

Along with the stresses at work, Evan is also getting an earful at home. Recently divorced, his ex-wife (Nicole Ari Parker) is constantly telling him how little time he is spending with his young daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi), an unusually creative little girl, who has learned to cope with her parents’ divorce by creating imaginary friends and clutching a security blanket a la Linus from the Peanuts gang. Too busy following the stock market, Evan doesn’t have time to listen to the gibberish that Olivia is communicating to him from her fantasy world.

But when it becomes evident that her nonsensical chattering is actually successful stock tips told to her by her imaginary friends, Evan finds a reason to devote some time to his daughter while simultaneously squeezing out as much financial information he can from an unorthodox source.

While Murphy and newcomer Shahidi are a natural fit to play a father-daughter duo, there’s a strong sense of moral ambiguity that is fairly bothersome throughout the film. Evan is clearly exploiting his daughter and there are no ways screenwriters Ed Solomon (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Chris Matheson (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”) can get around that fact. Tying a bow around their relationship and calling it a gift at the final second doesn’t make everything that came before it disappear.

The growth of Murphy’s character is at best stagey. You want to believe he is a good father, but nothing in the film’s first 90 minutes gives you any inkling of that characteristic. By the end, Murphy is letting us hear what any family-film moviegoer would want. Real life isn’t as predictable as “Imagine That.” Although Murphy doesn’t totally strike out (with a lot of help from cutesy co-star Shahidi), it’s not the movie that is going to help repair the questionable comedic choices he’s made since his last great one, 1996’s “The Nutty Professor.”

Meet Dave

July 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Banks, Gabrielle Union
Directed by: Brian Robbins (“Norbit”)
Written by: Rob Greenberg (debut) and Bill Corbett (debut)

It’s only been two years since we saw Eddie Murphy sitting at the Kodak Theater hoping to garner an Oscar for his role in the overrated “Dreamgirls,” but with the two films since that disappointing evening (Alan Arkin won the award), there isn’t a father place we can imagine him today.

After torturing us with his multi-character performances in “Norbit,” Murphy plays double duty in the science fiction comedy “Meet Dave.” In the film Murphy plays the tiny captain of an alien spacecraft built in his likeness. Therefore, Murphy also plays “Dave,” a human-sized android, who is controlled by the tiny men and women working inside his robotic body.

If that’s not odd enough, the crew’s sole mission is to locate a pebbly orb that has the power to drain any body of water it comes into contact with. This, of course, could spell disaster for the Earth’s surface.

The film takes a shortcut (who wants to watch Murphy smiling like “Bowfinger” again anyway?) as the crew quickly finds the orb using a tracking device. The search is made even easier when Dave is coincidentally hit by a truck driven by Gina Morrison (Elizabeth Banks), the mother of the kid (Austyn Meyers) who finds the mini-meteor.

As Gina and her son befriend Dave and entertain themselves with his bizarre behavior (he eats ketchup from the bottle and can throw a frightfully fast pitch), there is plenty more going on inside the spaceship. Gabrielle Union (“Deliver Us From Eva”) plays No. 3, the ship’s Cultural Officer in charge of surfing the internet so Dave can communicate with the human race. For example, when Gina invites Dave to a meatloaf dinner, Dave doesn’t know what meatloaf actually is until No. 3 Googles the word (a video of rock singer Meat Loaf pops up, unfortunately, leaving the “Star Trek”-like crew confused).

It’s here where debut screenwriters Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett start begging for laughs. These culture clashes are so obvious and poorly written, it’s no wonder Dave sticks out like a sore thumb. Along with Dave struggling to fit in amongst the humans, there are changes happening on the ship as the crew begins to discover what interesting thing earth has to offer like alcohol, sex, and show tunes.

Hardwired like 1987’s “Walk Like a Man,” which starred Howie Mandel as a human raised by wolves, “Meet Dave” has all the awkward societal blunders one would make trying to return to public life. Here, Murphy spreads it on thick. It becomes a problem when the script turns out to be so lanky.