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In a post-Bernie Madoff world, it’s hard not to enjoy Tower Heist at least a little. Yes, it’s a heist film with plot holes the size of craters and leaps in logic Evel Knievel and his motorcycle couldn’t jump. But there’s a great deal of pleasure in seeing a corrupt billionaire get swindled by the little guy. I could see it as the kind of movie the occupiers of Wall St. would jump up and applaud over.
The film begins at The Tower, the most luxurious residency in all of New York. Its wealthiest and most important occupant is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a financier who owns Steve McQueen’s car and swims in a pool made to look like a $100 bill. But Arthur fashions himself a man of the people. He has a particularly good relationship with Josh (Ben Stiller), The Tower’s hardworking manager. In fact, Josh thinks so highly of Mr. Shaw that he asks the man to manage the pensions of the hotel’s entire staff.
Big mistake. One day, Arthur is arrested for fraud. After posting $10 million bail, he goes under house arrest in his penthouse, and for a while, Josh gives his friend the benefit of a doubt. But when the hotel’s doorman attempts suicide and Josh learns a little more about Arthur’s treachery, he snaps. He goes on a rampage and is fired, and that’s not all. He hatches a plan with the help of a disgraced former Tower resident (Matthew Broderick), the elevator operator (Michael Pena), the concierge (Casey Affleck), head maid (Gabourey Sidibe), and a thief from his old neighborhood (Eddie Murphy). Their plan: Steal the $20 million Josh believes hidden in the penthouse.
Tower Heist obviously wants to be Ocean’s 11 for the working class, and while it succeeds, it’s hard not to groan just a little at director Brett Ratner’s total lack of originality. There’s not a subtle moment in 100 minutes. That would normally bother me quite a bit, but Tower Heist almost inexplicably gets a pass on that. It’s just too fast, loose, and fun to get uppity over its faults. In other words, it’s harmless fun—a nice change of pace for the typically dour Oscar season.
As you might expect from a film like this, the best laughs come from the supporting players. Here, the standouts are Michael Pena and Gabby Sidibe. The former you might recognize from films like Crash and World Trade Center. The latter, of course, broke out in 2009’s Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. So neither is known for his or her comedic chops, yet they knock their respective roles out of the park. Eddie Murphy isn’t featured quite as much as I expected, but this is his best non-Donkey role in years. Ben Stiller, despite being the film’s lead, doesn’t have much to do, unfortunately, as the straight-laced leader of this motley crew. Then there’s Alan Alda who, despite not being funny, gets the tone of the villain character just right.
There’s one subplot I really didn’t care for, and that qas an underplayed romance between Josh and an FBI agent on the case played by Tea Leoni. The two share a funny scene at a bar, which actually leads to Josh’s scheme. But beyond that, there’s no real reason for the romance angle to exist. It’s almost as if Ratner and the studios just felt like throwing it in would make the film accessible to a wider audience, but there’s very little substance there and absolutely no payoff.
The film is also light on action and focuses less on the specifics of the heist than you might expect. Instead, it just puts all the players in place and lets the actors do the rest. Yes, there are a few obligatory twists in order to keep you on your toes, but everything in the film is there to help service the comedy. That’s what allows you to forgive the absurdity of it all. In fact, it could have been even more absurd, and I still would have been onboard.
Brett Ratner might not be the most popular director out there right now, but I can’t begrudge him his success with Tower Heist. This might not be a great film, but it does exactly what it should. It has a fun premise, features a number of entertaining actors, and puts a big smile on your face. What else can you ask for?
Directed by Brett Ratner
Written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda
Other Player Affinity Staff Reviews
Simon thought: “Well, Eddie Murphy is at least mostly back, folks – at least this is not in drag. He and Stiller make a great oddball team in Tower Heist, a very implausible, but at times very entertaining robbery flick with some different ideas than we have come to expect in your average Hollywood heist fare. As is the case with many movies in this sub-genre, the circumstances of the job get a tad silly and the focus switches too much to double-crossing and set pieces than to the character-driven humor that comprised the superior opening acts. To purposely reiterate my previous point, it is the characters that drive this thriller, an eclectic mix of comedic talents that play off one another to palatable effect. The presence of consistently berated director Bret Ratner really seems like a moot point when all things are said and done. It’s a fluffy popcorn concoction and it tastes pretty decent.” Rating: 7/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.3/10