At some point toward the middle of Tower Heist, I released my iron-clad grip on attention to plot consistency and detail. Clearly I was not going to have any fun if I attempted to rationalize director Brett Ratner’s latest offering. And I have to admit, as soon as I relaxed I found the film … serviceable.
Meaning: I got exactly what I expected from a PG-13-rated action comedy. Tower Heist can’t commit to tipping the scale in favor of either all-out raunchy hilarity or over-the-top action. When someone wields a gun, you innately don’t wonder whether it will go off and hit a person in the foot for comedic effect, or blow said person’s head off. This is lukewarm material, the movie you schlep to with family members when they’re in town for the holidays.
That said, the film’s premise is far more apropos to our country’s current situation than, say, the metaphor-laden In Time. Service workers at a high-rise residence find themselves victims of securities fraud at the hands of Arthur Shaw, one of The Tower’s wealthy Wall Street tenants (played by the consistently excellent Alan Alda, who sadly isn’t given enough breathing in development of his character’s naughty/nice duality). Ben Stiller is Josh Kovacs, the building’s general manager who’s overly committed to his job, and runs a tight ship, but is inherently a kind, moral guy. He answers Shaw’s every beck and call, and trusts him completely, so much so that he asks Shaw to manage The Tower employee pensions, which are lost once Shaw is indicted. Tower Heist‘s motives being anything but veiled: After Josh breaks the news to his team, we’re served a small side drama surrounding doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson), who loses his life savings one month before retirement, spurring Josh into action.
Racked with guilt, Josh enlists the help of neighborhood criminal Slide (Eddie Murphy, who blessedly channels his comedic persona of yore and steals just about every scene he’s in), brother-in-law and Tower concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck, serving up the blandest performance in the film, although to his credit, the character is a complete bore), Enrique (Michael Peña, who gives Murphy a run for his money with expertly deadpan delivery and timing), disgraced Wall Street investor, and recent Tower evictee, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick, who has a lot of fun playing to his oft-criticized boring persona), and Tower maid Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe, a long way from Precious, and all the better for it). The team hatches a plan to rob Shaw’s penthouse while attempting to divert the watchful eye of FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni, at full swagger and looking mighty good, might I add).
The strength of Tower Heist is undoubtedly, and unsurprisingly, in its ensemble cast. As mentioned, vintage Murphy is in full force, Peña is fantastic, and Leoni rises above the female-cop stereotype in a few pretty great scenes. Stiller is solid, perhaps at times overcompensating in his attempts at badassery, but he has the thankless role as recently soiled squeaky-clean protagonist. Even Broderick spurts a few lines that elicit laughter (a minor miracle). And the chemistry is there, despite the fact that the actors never are never given time to flesh out their characters. One memorable shopping mall scene with Stiller, Affleck, Peña and Murphy springs to mind as the best example of their ability to play off each other — as does the heist itself.
About that heist: Without revealing details, I’ll say that, at the very least, it pushes the boundaries of the possible. But damn if it isn’t kind of enthralling, despite the insanity of its concept, especially considering that New York City’s Columbus Circle was used as its backdrop. The planning and execution of the shoot is borderline incomprehensible (and if you tend toward motion sickness or vertigo, this is not your movie).
In so many words, Tower Heist is good enough, but not very good. It’s Murphy’s film, above all else. If you feel like powering down your brain for two hours and laughing at some mildly funny banter, by all means — don’t let my apathy stop you.
Tower Heist opens today nationwide.
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