Hmph. The Blogpress app I was so delighted with mysteriously crashed and will not restart, devouring the entry I had written about this movie. So here we go again.
It is quite possible - even highly probable - that my standards have been considerably lowered. But I quite enjoyed this movie. It's not a masterpiece, but it's entertaining, and actually kind of interesting, when you think about it. The star-studded cast - Ben Stiller, Tea Leoni (I love her!), Alan Alda, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Gabourey Sidibe, Casey Affleck - do a great job making the characters three dimensional and sympathetic. It's a welcome pleasure to see Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick getting worthwhile employment, and both of them are much more interesting to watch than they have been in recent years (though Matthew Broderick is looking aged, damn). The only real flaw in terms of performance is Gabourey Sidibe's Jamaican accent, which is seriously awful. I mean, you wince every time she speaks. It's unfortunate, because she is otherwise totally beguiling. Point being though, that the cast makes this movie. They transform what could very easily be a somewhat bland run-of-the-mill heist flick into a pleasurable ensemble comedy.
The plot occasionally feels a bit paint-by-numbers, but for all that, it does have some twists and surprises. Or maybe they were only surprising to me. Talking to my friend during the intermission (thank you Turkish cinema for providing us with this moment for reflection, heh heh) I realized that I genuinely don't know what to expect in heist flicks. I mean, it is not obvious to me that the robbers will succeed. Maybe it really is the standard, and I just happen to have seen the few movies where they don't (not gonna name them for the sake of spoiler prevention), but I don't expect a straightforward triumph at the end. Partly, I think, because of the moral ambiguity. I mean, when you think about it, there's a moral tension at play in most heist movies, especially in ones (like this one) where you also have likable characters on the law enforcement side, and that muddies things up in terms of who you're cheering for. I think we no longer straightforwardly root for vigilante justice over the rule of law, so the characters are in a bit of a gray area. And actually, without giving it away I will say that the ending is kind of an interesting compromise, morally speaking.
In this movie, the dynamic is especially weird because it's about a wall street type who has defrauded lots and lots of people, so while you may be cheering for the cast of the building to steal his rainy day fund, you also can't help but be aware that there are other people just like them who deserve their money back (how can this be done legally? what if our heroes, instead of getting stupid rich off his money, were to share it with some of the other people he's ripped off?), and you want Tea Leoni the FBI agent to send his ass to jail.
The emotional undertones of the movie, thanks to the wall street part, are a lot stronger than they would be otherwise. The basic premise is that the staff of this building has lost their pensions because the manager gave it to Alan Alda to invest, thinking they'd make more money that way. The movie pushes the anti-wall street angle pretty hard, particularly in the character of Lester, an 100% likable guy who has worked his entire life and now lost all of his savings because he chose to invest them (this is curiously complimented by a moment where Gabourey Sidibe points out that nobody asked for their savings to be invested, implying that such things should not be subjected to the risks of the market. Ahem.). The close-ups of his face almost remind you of a Walker Evans photograph or something. He is also the moral fulcrum of the film; the outrage over what has happened to him (and his abject misery over it) is what tips the balance in favor of crime for the other characters.
I've gone on long enough about this movie, but one final thing that seems worth pointing out - actually, two. One is that there are some action-type sequences in this movie that blew me away. There is some intense, scary stunt type shit. Way more high tech than I expected, and also genuinely made my stomach flipflop a little. Impressive. The second is that there's a seen in the movie where two characters get really, really wasted, and it was so well done (and well acted) that I was cringing the entire time watching it. For no real reason other than the basic discomfort you feel around someone really wasted - you're on edge, thinking they're about to do something mortifying. And generally being uncomfortable with their boozy honesty. It's not an especially important scene, it just made an impression on me because it's that realistic.
Anyways, overall, I dunno if this is even still playing (or maybe it's due out on video soon, heh heh) but it's not a bad movie. Perfectly entertaining mindless pleasure, and not even totally mindless, if you wanna think about the moral mechanics.