Friday Flicks: Can Tower Heist Revive Eddie Murphy’s Career?

Grab some popcorn! NewsFeed's Glen Levy brings you the movies you should check out (or avoid) this weekend.

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Tower Heist

Tagline: It’s Not Just A Robbery. It’s Payback.

The beginning of Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist is so money. Literally. The venerable Alan Alda is seen swimming in his rooftop pool, the bottom of which is adorned with a hundred-dollar bill. It’s the kind of visual which immediately makes you realize that you’re not to root for his character of Arthur Shaw. (Who would be so immodest in this kind of economy to work out in such a fashion? It could have been a dollar bill, you know!) But Ratner is hardly a director who deals in subtlety.

Sure enough, Shaw is Bernie Madoff in all but name, and his notoriety is achieved by his ripping off the staff in the building in which he lives (it’s somewhat of a shame that the original title of Trump Heist didn’t remain), as they lose their pension funds to him in a Ponzi scheme. Refusing to accept his (and their) fate is manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), who rallies some of his troops and convinces them that they too can rip off Shaw by breaking into his apartment when he’s in court.

But if you’re vaguely aware of Tower Heist, you’ll know that someone has been conspicuous by his absence thus far. And so Kovacs brings in an outsider (in so many ways) in the form of petty thief Slide (Eddie Murphy) to provide expertise, teach valuable life lessons (never leave your wallet with a crook, for example) and put bananas up car exhausts (oh wait, different movie). The poster makes you think Stiller and Murphy would be tearing up the screen in fine buddy-movie traditions. But they barely share any scenes which, cynically, leads to the suggestion that Ratner’s film is merely a trailer for his producing of next year’s Oscars telecast, being hosted by … Eddie Murphy.

It’s impossible to deny that the script has a certain snappiness to it – and frankly, with three writers credited with the story, and two with the screenplay, it jolly well should do – but Tower Heist feels curiously flat (apart from Téa Leoni’s drunken FBI agent, a role which admirably shows off her comedy chops). Even if you can overlook the depressing plot strand that indicates that only by springing a black criminal out of jail can Kovacs and his crew even begin to have a chance of success (that’s Ratner and his subtlety for you once again), almost equally as disappointing is how you can screw up a film with a tower at the heart of it (it’s nigh on impossible as The Towering Inferno proves).

But we defy you to watch the utterly ludicrous denouement involving the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a Ferrari being dangled out of the window without dissolving into the wrong kind of laughter. If TV has become known for Jumping the Shark, the movies now have their Jumping the Car moment. Woe betide Ratner and Murphy if they commit a similar crime during the Oscars.

(LIST: TIME’s Top 10 Films of 2010)

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Tagline: Christmas Never Saw Them Coming.

Jumping the shark is mentioned in relation to 3D, which doesn’t seem to bother anyone involved here. In fact, Kal Penn has a warning for anyone who has contemplated the ideal audience for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. “Despite the fact that it’s a Christmas movie, nobody should think this is a family movie. Do not take your children,” he told Entertainment Weekly and, presumably, the studio funding the film because it’s hard to claim that the first weekend of November equates to the Christmas market. Then again, as the crude marketing campaign informs us, Christmas comes prematurely.

Penn plays Kumar, opposite John Cho’s Harold, in this third part of the popular pothead franchise. After their Gitmo misadventures, the pair has grown apart and is getting set for the holidays with new friends. And they’d have remained out of each other’s lives if it hadn’t been for a mysterious package arriving at Kumar’s door on Christmas Eve – you know, just like in the Nativity story! But by Kumar redirecting it to Harold’s house, we see the “high grade” contents – to say nothing of Harold’s father-in-law’s prize Christmas tree – going up in smoke. The search for a replacement tree (and laughs) begins. Most of the laughs will be provided by Neil Patrick Harris, who seems unable to put in a poor performance. If we were being paid to sell this movie, we’d say he reaches a new high.

(MORE: TIME’s full review of the last Harold & Kumar movie)

Killing Bono

Tagline: The Outrageous True Story Of Two Nobodies Who Took On The Biggest Somebody On Earth

Music journalist Neil McCormick has understandably had a rather large chip on his shoulder for most of his life. The reason? He went to school in Ireland with a guy named Paul Hewson, and they were in competing bands. Paul once tried to get Neil’s talented guitarist brother Ivan to join, but Neil secretly scuppered the plan. No matter. Paul would metamorphosis into Bono and his U2 would go on to conquer the world. Neil would remain Neil.

Based on his eventual memoir (hey, even Neil had to figure out a way to make a few pennies out of Bono), he’s ably played by Ben Barnes in Killing Bono. The U2 frontman, however, is superbly portrayed by Martin McCann (McCormick just can’t catch a break, can he? Even his semi-fictional self is outgunned by Bono) and the dialogue is given a lift by British scriptwriting legends Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais (they’re responsible for, among many others, The Commitments, which is the closest comparison to make).

Killing Bono will have about as much impact on you as listening to an actual U2 record, but it does provide a film footnote in that it’s Pete Postlethwaite’s final ever performance as Karl the camp landlord. And these following words of advice have a particular poignancy, because Postlethwaite already knew he had the cancer which would claim him. “A word for the wise from an old man before you go. Remember only this: the measure of a man is what’s left when fame falls away.”

PHOTOS: U2’s Bono

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: Seeing that this is the last weekend of the year without an evident Oscar contender, it was always likely to be slim pickings, which makes Killing Bono top of the pops.

Glen Levy is an executive producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.