Ben Stiller, Brett Ratner, and Brian Grazer Make NYC Heist Plans For November

A $50 million van Gogh masterpiece was swiped Saturday from a Cairo museum by thieves who took advantage of lax security, simply walked in and liberated a painting from its frame with a box cutter. In Hollywood, the planning and execution of a good heist is never that simple.

After almost four years, Universal Pictures is aiming Tower Heist for a November production start in New York. Brett Ratner will direct. Ben Stiller stars as the overworked manager of a luxury building who, along with other staff, lost their pensions to a Bernie Madoff-like Wall Street crook. It so happens that the fraudster is being held under house arrest in the luxury penthouse apartment upstairs, and the manager and four cohorts figure a heist will make them whole.

The film’s produced by Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer, and Kim Roth is executive producer. This heist has among its architects some of the town’s top screenwriters: Adam Cooper & Bill Collage, Russell Gewirtz, Rawson Thurber, Ted Griffin, Leslie Dixon, Noah Baumbach and Jeff Nathanson.

The project originally got set up under the title Trump Heist, when the intention was for an African American ensemble to target The Donald. Trump got evicted, as did the African American cast idea.

“It has become the quintessential New York heist movie, where a bunch of blue collar employees in a tower building pull off the ultimate heist,” Ratner told me. The move away from Trump really began with Ted Griffin, who, Ratner reminds, originally wrote Ocean’s Eleven for him to direct.  “I didn’t get to do that movie, I did Rush Hour instead, but I went back to Ted to do a rewrite, and he wanted to start over. His pitch was so good that I took it to Brian, who said, ‘let’s get it right.’ I brought the script to Ben on the Little Fockers set, and said this is perfect for you. He was looking at other projects like Mr. Popper’s Penguins (which went to Jim Carrey), I asked Noah Baumbach  to do some specific character work for Ben. Then my Rush Hour guy Jeff Nathanson brought it home. The major difference from the Ocean’s film is those guys were expert thieves. These are real guys whose talent is they know the inner workings of the building and the people in it. It took a long time for this to come together, but it was totally worth the wait. This has a lot of heart to go along with the humor.”

Ratner, who made Family Man and Red Dragon for Universal, hasn’t directed a feature since 2007’s Rush Hour 3. He was particularly glad to make one with Grazer, whom he first met while he was a film student. “When I graduated, Brian said, I want you to be my assistant, I’m going to teach you everything about the movie business and you’ll someday be the biggest producer in Hollywood, and I’ll pay you $21,000 a year,” Ratner recalled. “I said, no disrespect, but I’m a film director.  He said, I’m going to offer you $23,000 and I said, I want to be a director like your partner, Ron Howard. I think he got to $27,000 before he finally said, ‘Ok, good luck in the future.’” Ratner said he hopes to follow Tower Heist with Playboy, the Imagine/Universal film about Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner.

Imagine just wrapped The Dilemma, with Howard directing and Grazer producing the Vince Vaughn-Kevin James comedy; the Jon Favreau-directed Cowboys and Aliens is still shooting with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, and next summer starts production on Ballers, the Malcolm Lee-directed film that will star LeBron James.

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