'Tower Heist' Director Brett Ratner

*(Via LA Times) – Eddie Murphy had a simple suggestion about six years ago: Why not make an all-black version of “Ocean’s Eleven”?

Director Brett Ratner and producer Brian Grazer loved the comedian’s idea, and before long, the trio was throwing around ideas about who could star opposite Murphy: Jamie Foxx, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan and Chris Tucker headed the list.

The resulting movie, Universal Pictures’ “Tower Heist,” arrives in theaters this weekend, where it will face solid competition from Warner Bros.‘ “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.” But after more than five years of development, Murphy’s original pitch has been transformed into a different film, with the all-black conceit replaced by an ensemble cast led by Ben Stiller and including Casey Affleck and Matthew Broderick.

While Murphy still has a prominent role in “Tower Heist,” as does African American actress Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”), the movie’s basic story also has changed, with the story’s original villain (imagine Donald Trump) replaced by a Bernie Madoff-type character.

The evolution of “Tower Heist” illustrates how even a seemingly straightforward idea can go through countless iterations from concept to screen. While “Tower Heist” is credited to screenwriters Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven”), Jeff Nathanson (Ratner’s last two “Rush Hour” movies) and writing partners Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (“Accepted”), the script also was revised by Russell Gewirtz (“Inside Man”), Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”), Leslie Dixon (“The Thomas Crown Affair”) and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

Universal hopes that the PG-13 “Tower Heist,” which cost about $75 million after tax rebates, will play strongly for several weeks, but the release calendar is crowded. Audience tracking surveys show that the studio’s marketing efforts have sparked significant interest among older women, but “Harold & Kumar” is appealing more strongly to younger men. Both films will face three new wide releases next weekend: Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio‘s “J. Edgar,” the sword-and-sandals drama “Immortals” and Adam Sandler‘s cross-dressing comedy “Jack and Jill.”

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