That strangled “Aaargh!” you hear is the sound of Universal execs bemoaning the lousy showing of their pricey, over-hyped “Tower Heist.”
Following a carefully orchestrated send-off, the Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy comedy caper failed to secure the top spot at the box office its opening weekend. (Adding insult to injury, it was bested by the kidpic “Puss in Boots” ‒ its second week in release.)
Certainly timely enough ‒ Stiller, Murphy and four others exact payback for a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme ‒ the $85 million crime farce surprised industry prognosticators with its less-than-stellar showing.
I asked a couple of my film classes at De Anza College if they’d rushed out to see the comedy. En masse, they shot me one of those “Huh? What planet are you from?” looks.
Almost to a one they agreed the film had a tired ‘boomer vibe. Though I liked it, I could see their point. Besides its ersatz “Mission: Impossible” jazz theme, the film is crammed with pop culture references from the 1970s and ’80s, including Steve McQueen, Tina Turner, “Boys from Brazil,” “The Doberman Gang” and, from TV Land, “Matlock.” The casting of Alan Alda as the villain conjures memories of another time-capsule experience: CBS’s “M*A*S*H.”
If the comments by my students are indicative of how today’s target audience feels, producer Brian Grazer, director Brett Ratner and Murphy, who developed the project, would have done well to canvass campuses before going into production. The interaction would have been eye-opening, leaving the trio to conclude, Hey, maybe the audience we should care about doesn’t want to see this film.
My classes, I’m sure, wouldn’t have minced words. They sure didn’t Tuesday.
“The trailer looks incredibly cheesy and washed-out, like a boring version of ‘Ocean’s 11,’” volunteered Sharif Elrefaie.
“Eddie Murphy gives off a family vibe,” observed Erik Ard. “It’s hard to take him seriously in a crime plot.”
“Eddie Murphy?” shot back an incredulous Roderic Wilson. “He hasn’t been funny since the ’80s. He needs to get his mojo back!”
Of course, “Tower Heist’s” reception wasn’t helped by Ratner’s gay slur during a preview-screening Q&A. Asked “What was your rehearsal like?,” Ratner replied, “Rehearsal? What’s that? Rehearsals are for fags!”
Talk about clueless! Ratner not only offended the entire LGBT community, he demonstrated what my students already knew ‒ how really out of touch he is.