Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 10-31-11

“Tower Heist” – In theaters November 4

“Tower Heist” – In theaters November 4

Stars of “Tower Heist” Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller

Stars of “Tower Heist” Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller

“A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” – In theaters November 4

“A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” – In theaters November 4

“Tower” talk: It’s always good to be the movie people are talking about so Universal’s got to be feeling good about “Tower Heist.”

What’s driving that buzz is Eddie Murphy’s return to playing the kind of wise-cracking street-smart character that launched his superstar career in 1980s action comedy hits like “48 HRS,” “Trading Places” and the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise.

Over the years, Murphy’s films have grossed an enviable $3.7 billion domestically. More recently, his career’s had its ups and downs — with most of the ups reflecting his voiceover work as the animated Donkey in the “Shrek” franchise.

Well, the good news is that Murphy’s back onscreen in top form in “Tower,” a new action comedy from Universal, Imagine Entertainment and Relativity Media, playing a smart-ass small time crook. It’s a role that’s perfectly tailored to Murphy’s comedic talents. Credit his pal and director Brett Rattner for knowing how to make the most of Murphy’s onscreen charisma and for surrounding him with a great ensemble cast, including Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni and Gabourey Sidibe.

Rattner’s overdue for a big hit, too. Over the years, his films have grossed nearly $1 billion in domestic theatres. His last film was the 2007 action comedy “Rush Hour 3,” which grossed $140.1 million domestically and about $118 million more in international theatres.

With the right vehicle like “Tower,” Murphy and Rattner are a powerhouse combination. Moreover, the timing’s perfect for them to be back in the spotlight since their next joint project is the 84th Academy Awards telecast Feb. 26, which Rattner’s producing and Murphy’s hosting.

“Tower” looks good in the tracking reports heading into this weekend. It’s doing best with 25-plus females, but is tracking almost as well with all other age demos. And it’s tracking through the roof with African-American moviegoers, who clearly want to see Murphy’s new film. That’s a great boxoffice bonus because Murphy’s always enjoyed broad “crossover” audience appeal and that should continue to be the case.

This weekend’s only other wide release is the R rated comedy “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” from Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, it re-teams Kal Penn and John Cho in the title roles and is tracking best with under-25 males.

Both “Tower” and “H&K” will benefit from relatively light competition in the marketplace this weekend. Having only two wide openings instead of the usual three or four is a big help to begin with. It also should help that last weekend’s top grossing film, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s 3D animated “Puss in Boots” is a family film that doesn’t directly compete with either newcomer.

But this non-competitive calm won’t last very long. Thanksgiving weekend, for instance, will see three major wide releases arriving Wed., Nov. 23 to compete for family audiences — Disney’s live action “The Muppets,” Paramount’s live action 3D “Hugo” and Sony’s animated 3D “Arthur Christmas.” Also opening for Thanksgiving is Warner Bros. and Silver Pictures’ “Project X,” an R rated youth appeal comedy that’s counter-programming against all the family films.

Of course, the long Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time for families to catch several films so there’s typically room in the marketplace for more movies targeted to parents looking for something to do with their kids.

Bottom line: Look for "Tower Heist" to hit the boxoffice heights this weekend.