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5 Questions With ... 'Tower Heist' Director Brett Ratner

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Brett Ratner knows his high-octane movies -- the one-time music video director cut his big screen teeth on Charlie Sheen's action-comedy "Money Talks" and all three "Rush Hour" movies. We know what happens when Ratner's sensibilities meet Chris Tucker (see: every movie we've mentioned thus far) and mutant superpowers ("X-Men: The Last Stand") -- but what happens when his taste for action meets the global financial crisis?

"Tower Heist."

In advance of his new release, we talked to the director about working with his childhood idol, the Occupy Wall Street protesters and -- obviously -- the devastating legacy of Milli Vanilli.

"Tower Heist" is pure vintage Eddie Murphy. Very "48 Hours"-ish, very "Trading Places."  That must have been a boyhood dream of yours.
Oh my God, are you kidding?  You have no idea.  It was beyond a dream. Growing up with an actor and watching his movies... Eddie invented the genre. There's action comedies before him, but he took it to a whole other level.  No one can imagine how excited I was.  I would race to the set every day to direct Eddie Murphy in a movie.  It was the most incredible experience of my life.

I learned from the formula of what Eddie did in the past in "Trading Places" and "48 Hours" and "Beverly Hills Cop" that there's always got to be a real villain, and the stakes have to always be there, and it's got to be grounded in reality.  And he told me that ["48 Hours" director] Walter Hill would always say to him, you know, "This is not a comedy."  So even though it's funny, it's humorous, we weren't shooting a comedy.  The film looked like a dramatic film.  You approach it as if it was a drama, but it was funny as hell because of the situations these actors were put in.

Universal

You couldn't have asked for a more appropriate time for a movie about corporate greed.  Was this a direct response to the Bernie Madoff scandal?
No, we came up with it before Madoff even.  We had no idea that Madoff was going to happen or the financial crisis.  It's a true underdog story, so it was something which we'd seen before in films, but that we didn't try to be timely.  It just happened that we're the film for the 99% of the world.  The other 1% who's screwing over the 99% is probably not happy about it, but we're excited.  Look, it's great when you make a film that has something to say, but more importantly, the movie's fun, and you’re rooting for these characters.  You want them to win, you want them to take back what was taken from them, and it was great making it.

Do you have a take on Occupy Wall Street?
I'm going to the protest right after this. No, I'm kidding. [laughs]  No, I don't have a take on it.  I think protesting is what's great about this country.  People can express themselves freely and it's a great thing.  If people want to protest, that's fine, but the movie I think is a metaphor not just for the Wall Street bigwig, it could be corporate America, it could be the government, it could be anything.

You know it's like, the world has changed, okay? People go earn a buck and they want to keep that buck. You give it to your business manager, you give it to your accountant, your lawyer.  With the bank you don't know where that money's going and it's a scary world right now, it's a scary place to be.  And I think that's why people are protesting, they want to take back and figure out, "Okay, how are we going to take more control over what we worked hard for and what we earned? We deserve that."

Without a strong opinion on the protest, "Tower Heist" still really hits that nail on the head.
I remember being a kid and things happened that I was really upset about, and I was able to make fun of it later. Like Milli Vanilli, when I found out that they weren't really singing on their record, I'm like, "What?! Blame it on the rain."  I was devastated, but then after awhile I was able to make fun of that s**t. You know, it's okay to make fun of something that is devastating to you, because that's what life is about, you know?

The truth is, the thing about this country and what goes on in the world is that Milli Vanilli got crucified, they got destroyed. I mean, one of the guys ended up killing himself, right?  It was horrible.  All they were doing was lip-syncing. Iran-Contra was going on and people were dying because the government was lying to people. But lip-syncing, these guys were like the villains of the world, you know Milli Vanilli were the worst guys ever and meanwhile Oliver North was lying.

That shows you how passionate people are about their art, or their music, or their movies.

You are producing the untitled Snow White project. So... when is it getting a name?
Soon.   Or it could just be "Snow White".  It'll get a name soon.

 

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