Ben Stiller surpasses his contemporaries in film

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I have a confession to make: I kind of wanted to see “Tower Heist” upon its release. Truthfully, the reviews have actually been positive overall. Yes, the praise has been tepidly positive, but positive nonetheless. Critics have said it’s one of Eddie Murphy’s funnier movies in years. Hate to break the bad news, but that certainly isn’t saying much. But the bottom line is this: I have a soft spot for Ben Stiller. Even if a movie preview doesn’t look great, if he’s in it, consider me interested.

While it’s good to see Stiller and Murphy team together, giving Alan Alda a more prominent role might have paid off nicely. Alda was incredible in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” as a pompous, hypocritical television producer. In “Tower Heist,” he again plays a pompous, money-hungry man, but his given profession is, officially, financier instead of producer.

In thinking about who the funniest film actors are right now, Ben Stiller would rank near the top. A lot of the older comic actors are in more duds than winners. Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin and Robin William’s funniest days are probably over. Do I need to offer “Daddy Day Care” or “Cheaper by the Dozen” as evidence?

Meanwhile, Stiller has proven himself to not only be consistently funny, but also a skilled actor. If you haven’t seen “Greenberg” yet, maybe you’ll scoff at such a suggestion. But Stiller was excellent in a dramatic role that showed off his acting chops. “Greenberg” was the first film to pair writer/director Noah Baumbach and Stiller. I’m happy to report they’re working on another film tentatively entitled “While We’re Young.”

Stiller is just as good in the television medium as in film (with HBO and more progressive television programming today, the line has blurred). He had his own show back in 1992 and 1993. One of the best episodes included a satirical spoof of “Die Hard,” where Stiller poked fun of how ridiculously implausible the movie is.

Again, in 2005, he had a hilarious guest spot on the very first episode of the Ricky Gervais show “Extras.” He’s also had guest spots on “Arrested Development” and “The Simpsons.”

I don’t pretend that every movie Stiller does is funny – far from it. But the man works tirelessly, and when an actor does so, he is guaranteed to appear in some bad movies. As Stiller argues in his funny scene on “Extras,” he is box-office gold. His movies always make money and usually lots of it. More times than not, he is funny, whether the entirety of the movie is or isn’t. Also, Stiller seems to constantly love his job. He had a cameo in the recent release “The Trip.” It was a memorable role because Stiller seemed to be clowning around with co-star Steve Coogan.

Stiller is funny for a number of reasons. For starters, he’s pretty witty. He takes the absurd elements of the movie industry and turns them into humor, making fun of movie stars’ pampered lifestyles and bloated egos, and he even makes fun of himself. Most movie stars simply cannot bear to make fun of themselves. Doing so might hurt their confidence too much.

But Stiller isn’t just funny with words and situational humor. He has a physical brand of humor too. He doesn’t have to resort to fart jokes, but he plays up his short stature to comical effect and uses his eyes to convey humor. Often, his exaggerated facial expressions make for the funniest scenes in his movies. This is the sign of a gifted comic actor.