Title: Tower Heist
Directed By: Brett Ratner
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Stephen Henderson, Judd Hirsch, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe
Sometimes formulaic filmmaking isn’t all that bad, especially in the case of a film with an outlandish plot like Tower Heist. It basically plays out as you’d expect with a few good gags along the way and some bumbling attempts to snag the cash, but if you’re simply looking for an enjoyable hour and 45 minutes, what else do you need? There’s certainly nothing too deep about this one, but courtesy of colorful characters, some solid laughs and a festive Thanksgiving backdrop, Tower Heist makes for a pretty entertaining film.
It’s just another day at The Tower in New York City, the staff hard at work doing everything in their power to accommodate the residents, as building manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) believes they don’t just pay millions for their apartments, but for top-notch service, too. Josh knows every detail about everyone at The Tower, but he’s got a particularly close relationship with the man in the penthouse apartment, the wealthiest of them all, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). When the two aren’t playing digital chess together, Shaw is busy making millions through his investments. However, when his empire comes crumbling down, Shaw winds up taking the entire staff of The Tower with him as he manages their pensions.
Unable to bear watching his co-workers’ lives collapse, Josh takes it upon himself to get their money back – and then some. He hatches a plan to rob Shaw of his supposed safety net, roughly $20 million Josh suspects he keeps in a safe in his apartment. He recruits the concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck), the newly hired elevator operator Enrique (Michael Peña) and the recently evicted Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) to assist him with his plan, but, even with the know-how they have to offer, it isn’t enough. They need a real crook. In comes Eddie Murphy as Slide, Josh’s trash-talking neighbor with a criminal past. Together, with ski caps on and empty wallets in hand, they’ll sneak into Shaw’s apartment, crack the safe and give the swindler what he deserves.
Think Ocean’s Eleven, but in New York City, plus some comedy and minus a significant amount of the intricate robbery details. But still, Tower Heist maintains a sleek tone and quick pace, which turn out to be more than enough not only to sell the idea of the heist, but to get you from beginning to end without blinking an eye.
You get a taste of what you’re in for right from the start. Tower Heist opens with a bit of a montage, providing an overview of an average working day at The Tower. It’s exactly what you’d expect; the staff is incredibly hard working and Shaw trounces around the property as though he’s everyone’s best friend. It’s all surface value material and does little to broaden the characters, but this isn’t a film that’s about the players, rather the game that’s being played.
Then again, the robbery itself isn’t particularly well developed either. But, on the other hand, Tower Heist in its entirety likely wouldn’t have worked at all had the script been bogged down in the intricate details of a heist that’s downright absurd anyway. Writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson basically give us stealing money 101 and then director Brett Ratner takes it from there, solidifying the ambience of the piece which is just slick enough to gloss right over the plot holes.
However, even though the characters don’t have much depth and the robbery itself is at the forefront, the hotel staff still is a blast to watch. Stiller’s Josh offers a solid anchor, the sensible type you can latch onto to carry you through this crazy scheme he’s cooked up. Josh has a bit of an odd couple relationship with Slide, which is particularly amusing and rather volatile, forcing you to stay on their toes and keep an eye on the situation.
Broderick has some particularly memorable moments with his character, a former Tower resident, Mr. Fitzhugh, a straight edge guy who needs a little bit of nudging along every now and then. Then there’s Peña who suffers from a few “I’m the dumb one” jokes that fall flat, but Enrique, who’s commonly referred to by his last name, DevReaux, is lovable enough that he manages to grow on you quite a bit. Another hotel employee who makes an impression is Gabourey Sidibe’s Odessa, the maid. She may not nail the Jamaican accent, but her comedic timing certainly makes up for it. The one worker that falls to the wayside quite a bit is Affleck’s Charlie. Not enough is done with the fact that Charlie’s a family man to make the element effective and, in general, he can be a bit of a wet blanket, incessantly sulking and pointing out the negative, making him far less fun than his counterparts.
A surprisingly entertaining performance comes from Téa Leoni. Thanks to comedy clichés, the female cop trying to take down the ring of men is typically reduced to an all-business attitude paired with the tiniest soft spot for the assailants. Sure, we get that here, but Special Agent Claire Denham also packs a fiery personality and a silly streak that Leoni puts to good use, creating some of the film’s most memorable moments. On the other hand, Shaw doesn’t have much to offer beyond the basics of his rich villain classification. He seems nice, he threatens and, of course, gets very angry when he doesn’t get what he wants.
The plot may seem absurd and, well, that’s because it is, but, thanks to a band of rather engaging and comfortably stereotypical characters, you’re on board for the heist from the opening credits on. Just don’t try and hash through the details after you leave the theater and Tower Heist will be worth your while.