Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: November 4, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr grabs a protest sign and a test so he can occupy something. All the big cities are taken, so he decides to Occupy Hollywood, but being one of the 99%, he can’t afford a plane ticket from Ohio to California. So, he occupies his local multiplex, squatting in the front of their biggest screen.

There, he has a chance to check out the loosely-related Tower Heist and later drinks some spiked egg nog and wanders into a later screening of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. At least that’s what he’s telling the authorities.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as FSR’s Managing Editor Cole Abaius joins him in the Magical Studio in the Sky to talk about this week’s movies.

Studio: Universal

Rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content

Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni and Casey Affleck

Directed by: Brett Ratner

What it’s about: A rag-tag group of service employees plan to rob $20 million from an embezzler living in the penthouse apartment who raided their pension fund.

What I liked: I have a confession to make: I like Brett Ratner’s movies. I’ve never met the man, and he comes across as a class A douchebag in interviews and DVD supplementals, but damn it if he can’t make a fun flick. So there was a certain appeal even in the advertising of Tower Heist. Seriously, I haven’t seen a movie this guy has made that I’ve seriously disliked.

The story is a pretty standard look at more literal class warfare, which makes the movie a bit of a button-pusher. But those buttons are pushed at the right time and by a decent cast. Ben Stiller goes back to playing the everyman, avoiding many of his annoying ticks that have polluted many of his other films. And Alan Alda plays the perfect villain with a steady balance between schmoozy and smarmy.

But it’s Eddie Murphy who really steals the show, bringing back the spark we saw in his breakthrough films of the 1980s. It’s great to see him back in form after spending fifteen years making middling-to-godawful family films.

Tower Heist isn’t perfect, but it has plenty of funny moments, a nice dose of action and very smooth chemistry between its stars. God dammit! Brett Ratner has got me again.

What I didn’t: Tower Heist spent years in development hell, original conceived as a robbery of the Trump Towers by a cast of black comedians, including Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker and Tracy Morgan. And while much of the movie has changed, it’s easy to see lines that were written for another actor coming awkwardly out of Ben Stiller’s mouth. Considering its history, Tower Heist has been smoothed out quite a bit, but there’s still plenty of evidence of retooling and script scars.

In the current Occupy Wherever climate, this movie has a chance to really strike a chord. But this connection begins to break down when you realize that Stiller was paid $15 million to be in the movie and Murphy was paid $7.5 million (totally more than the $20 million the characters plan to steal). Of course, the saving grace of the movie is that it’s not the poor versus the rich, but rather the poor versus the rich crooks. That works, doesn’t it?

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy or anyone who saw all three Rush Hour films in the theater.

Grade: B+

Studio: New Line Cinema

Rated: R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence

Starring: Kal Penn, John Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, Elias Koteas, Danny Trejo and Danneel Ackles

Directed by: Todd Strauss-Schulson

What it’s about: After effectively breaking up and going their separate ways several years ago, stoner buddies Harold and Kumar are thrown into a new misadventure when they have to track down the last Fraser Fir Christmas tree in New York City. Oh, and Neil Patrick Harris shows up, sings and debates whether or not he’s gay.

What I liked: I enjoyed Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, but I thought Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay got a little preachy… and is it ever a good idea to use a Harold & Kumar movie to drive home a political point?

The best thing I can say for A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is that it has left all pretense aside and does nothing more than be stupid, crass, rude, crude, offensive and absolutely hilarious. But rather than pushing cinematic boundaries with shots of guys’ junk (though we have a few of those tossed in for good measure here) but rather with a raunchy Santa Claus, potential statutory rape and a drugged-out toddler. And plenty of weed humor, but we all knew that was coming, didn’t we?

This flick embraces balls-to-the-wall humor and the 3D element, having a lot of fun with situation and characters. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments and extreme situations. The 3D is thrown all over the place, taking full advantage of the gimmick but not relying on it.

You’ve not seen a Christmas movie like this in the past, and you’ll likely not see one again. But it’s one of the funniest holiday features I’ve seen in a long time.

What I didn’t: Like many niche films, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas has plenty of things to complain about, especially if you’re easily offended. But if you’re paying full price to see a Harold & Kumar in the theater, aren’t you okay with a complete lack of viable plot, in-depth character growth and deep dialogue?

Seriously, if you’re going to complain about the drug humor, the language, the sacrilege, racial humor or the wildly inappropriate situations, you should have stayed at home for this one.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of these movies.

Grade: A

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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