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The 1 percent solution
November 9, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
Knowing I had other plans for last Saturday night, I squeezed in two movies back-to-back on Friday.
They were comedies, which I hoped would make the afternoon light-heartedly blur into evening. But after getting caught up with other events over the weekend — namely, the very gratifying world premiere of “When the Mountain Calls: Nepal • Tibet • Bhutan” in Castle Theater Saturday – now the two comedies have melted together into a big blob of memory, like what happens if you forget to empty your pockets before throwing your clothes into the washer and dryer.
This lack of continuity in memory may be because the two films don’t have anything to do with one another. It’s kind of like a dream. Then again, it might be because at certain points, each movie stops making sense, all by itself.
Neither “Tower Heist” nor “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,” managed to unseat last week’s “Puss in Boots” from atop the box-office charts. Added together, they barely beat Puss’ ticket sales. And the timing of Harold and Kumar’s Christmas adventure, almost two months ahead of the actual holiday, suggests that stars John Cho and Kal Penn might not be the only members of the production team to be seriously stoned.
This third installment of the smokin’ franchise has Harold moving on to straight, married life in the suburbs, while Kumar has moved on to a bigger bong. On one fateful Christmas Eve they are reunited after an errant joint burns down the Christmas tree in Harold’s living room and they embark on a quixotic mission to replace it.
On their ridiculous, R-rated night before Christmas, they manage to break numerous laws, not to mention demolishing every cherished belief in sight. (For example: Yes, they do shoot Santa Claus … but it was an accident.)
With Neil Patrick Harrison once again doing a wonderful sendup of Neil Patrick Harris to lead the eccentric supporting cast, the film’s biggest co-star turns out to be the 3D in the title. Under Todd Strauss Schulson’s manic direction, the R-rated mischief is the rare case where the 3D isn’t an add-on to raise ticket prices, but a key ingredient in creating a celluloid contact high.
Sometimes very funny, sometimes way over the line, never bothering to stay within the limits of good taste, it’s the 3D that pushes this project in a surprisingly creative direction. The always lively visual effects, from the smoke emanating from the screen to the transformation of Harold and Kumar into claymation or anime, compensate for the pair’s impaired judgment — and make Harold and Kumar worth wasting a couple of hours with.
Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and their co-conspirators in “Tower Heist” have more weighty matters to deal with. Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, manager of a modern high-rise apartment whose penthouse-dwelling financier Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) bears more than a passing resemblance to Bernie Madoff. After Shaw’s Ponzi pyramid collapses and he is put under house arrest by FBI agent Tea Leone in his penthouse, the building’s staff learn their retirement savings were part of the fortune he lost.
The “Heist” part of the title refers to the not-too-well-thought-out plan by Stiller and the unlikely criminal conspirators he enlists to steal the money back. Never to be mistaken for the supercool “Oceans 11” team are Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, a Jamaican-accented Gabourney Sidibe and a sad-sack Matthew Broderick. Eddie Murphy’s “Slide” is their ringer, a street hustler who turns out to be far better at talking the talk than walking the walk. Apart from a few small problems, like not being especially funny, “Tower Heist” suffers from a bad case of mixed metaphors —from the financier’s prized Ferrari to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Brand names suffice for actual plot devices in the unlikely story, with director Brett Ratner and company seemingly grasping for any symbol in sight to cast his motley milquetoast conspirators as modern Manhattan Robin Hoods.
“Tower Heist” arrives amidst a storm of creative efforts trying to amplify the sentiments of Occupy Wall Street and other protests going on across the U.S. But inadvertently, it illustrates some of the problems and contradictions in the movement.
While it’s only taken several decades to realize just how wrong Michael Douglas was when he said “Greed is good” in the original “Wall Street,” it’s a lot harder knowing what to do about it.
Especially out here on our little island that sometimes feels like we’re all working on Oprah’s plantation, and where the local economy depends a lot on that much-maligned 1 percent.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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