Most people wouldn't concoct an idea for an action-comedy film out of boredom. But most folks aren't Eddie Murphy.
"I wanted to get out of the house and do some stuff," Murphy said at a press conference last month about coming up with the plot for Tower Heist. "I'd been sitting around the house too long."
Conceptualized by Murphy in 2005, the film follows condominium staff members as they seek justice — and revenge — from a Bernie Madoff-esque banker who milked members of the crew for their pensions.
Murphy couldn't have cast anyone better than himself in this film, since few actors do action comedy better than he does. In 1982 Murphy broke new ground with 48 Hours, in which he plays a former convict out to catch a cop killer. In the Beverly Hills Cop series, which began two years later, he plays a street-savvy cop looking to avenge the murder of his best friend. The series brought Murphy international fame, and he ascended the throne as the king of action comedies.
"There would be no Rush Hour series if it wasn't for Eddie," said Rush Hour and Tower Heist director Brett Ratner. "Not only was [Tower Heist] Eddie's idea, but in a lot of ways, he invented the genre."
In Tower Heist, Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovaks, the workaholic manager of a luxury condominium off of New York City's Central Park. Josh seeks payback after he discovers that he and his staff have been entangled in a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by his billionaire penthouse tenant. With only days to act before the Wall Street crook gets away with the crime, Josh assembles a crew to steal $20 million that he believes is hidden in the penthouse.
His accomplices include Slide, a petty crook played by Murphy; not-so-bright Charlie (Casey Affleck); fidgety and nervous Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick); and down-for-whatever bellhop Enrique (Michael Peña). Gabourey Sidibe plays Odessa, a fiery, Jamaican-born maid who doubles as a seasoned lock picker.
While her Jamaican accent teeters between somewhat believable and what seems like purposely bad, Sidibe's performance showcases her versatility. Her role as Odessa, which seems a world away from her gritty debut role in Precious, was not much of a stretch for Sidibe, who sees a parallel between the two.
"I saw a lot of comedy in Precious, and I spend most of my money on comedies," Sidibe said.
A hilarious highlight of the film is an improvised scene in which Odessa flirts with Murphy's character. As Odessa schools him on the proper way to unlock a safe, she coyly asks him if he's married, soliciting a surprisingly intrigued response from Slide.
"I was really afraid of that scene where I had to flirt with him — up until when Brett [Ratner] says 'Action.' Then I kind of just, like, let it go and was like, 'Hmmm, let's see if I can bone Eddie Murphy,' " she told reporters at a recent press conference for the film.
As for a real-life romance between Sidibe and Murphy, it would be a dream come true for Sidibe, who jokingly admitted to a longtime crush on Murphy. "I don't know if you've seen him in The Golden Child, but he wore a lot of leather suits, and there's nothing sexier than a black man in a leather suit," Sidibe said.
With Occupy Wall Street protests cropping up across the globe and angry working-class citizens protesting the ugly habits of the rich, Tower Heist may be this year's best big-screen example of art mimicking life. There aren't many surprises in the plot, which sticks to a never-fails feel-good theme: poor folks beating conniving rich folks at their own game. It does deviate in that it infuses comedy into what is really a tragic exploitation of hardworking people, the inevitable result of having two mega-comedians, Murphy and Stiller, leading the cast.
It's unlikely, however, that Tower Heist will be as iconic as the Eddie Murphy action comedies before it. Perhaps, if Murphy's original idea for the film — bringing together an all-black superstar cast of comedians including Martin Lawrence, Dave Chappelle, Chris Tucker, Mike Epps and Katt Williams — had been realized, Tower Heist might have been the kind of gut-bustingly funny that we've come to love and expect from Murphy. But the film is fun, light and worth watching — and its rich-vs.-poor storyline is eerily appropriate for the times.
Akoto Ofori-Atta is assistant editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.