Mark Reviews Movies

Tower Heist


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña, Téa Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Judd Hirsch

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:44

Release Date: 11/4/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 4, 2011

The tone and execution of Tower Heist are so breezy that they threaten to blow down the material. An ensemble comedy about a group of wronged employees who attempt to rob the boss who took the money from their pension plans under the false pretense of investing, the movie does several things right—a talented cast, a deplorably matter-of-fact sociopath as a villain, and, above all, a dizzying setpiece of a robbery that features a 2,000-pound car and three people dangling hundreds of feet in the air among them.

Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson's screenplay leaves a few other loose ends dangling (The fate of the car is actually one of them, but that comes after it takes a trip down and up an elevator shaft, too) that help Brett Ratner's direction make the jump from carefree to inattentive. After all, no amount of charisma from any cast can distract from the 2,000-pound car in the room.

The eventual leader of the theft is Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), the loyal and attentive manager of billionaire Arthur Shaw's (Alan Alda) tower apartment complex, aptly named "the Tower." Shaw pretends to be an Average Joe who just had the fortune of making it big; he insists that Josh and anyone else on his staff remind him of his less-fortunate roots whenever they have a chance. Still, money is money, and while interviewing a potential elevator operator named Enrique (Michael Peña), the most pressing questions involve whether or not the new hire knows of the best places in town to get the ingredients for a sandwich, should the event ever arise. Your regular, everyday Joe also doesn't typically have a swimming pool on the roof that's tiled to resemble a hundred-dollar bill.

The suspicion that Shaw is not what he makes himself out to be is confirmed when he attempts to escape from federal agents, led by Special Agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni), who arrest him for investment fraud. Part of his alleged schemes involve using the money from the Tower's employee's pension fund to keep up appearances after going broke on multiple bad investments. Josh thought he was doing the best for his fellow workers when he took Shaw's offer. Now it's all gone, and with so many higher priorities to pay off first (i.e., assorted banks), it's unlikely the Tower's staff will ever see their money again.

This is enough, really, to establish a reasonable sense of injustice against the characters, so it's a little alarming when the screenplay weighs the scales even further by having the lovable doorman Lester (Stephen McKinley Henderson) walk in front of a moving subway train. It's perhaps even odder that Josh uses this information against Shaw to show what an uncaring jerk the billionaire is ("If you care so much, why didn't you ask if he was alive or dead," he asks; if you care so much, Josh, why would you use the man's torment as a manipulative tool to get one over on the boss you already know is a heartless ass?). Either way, it's the final straw for Josh, who breaks the windows and lights of Shaw's prized sports car, previously owned by Steve McQueen and which Shaw keeps as a centerpiece in his penthouse abode. As a result of his hollow display of indignation, Josh, his brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck), and Enrique are summarily fired.

Despite Shaw's financial woes, Josh is convinced a man of his stature would have a safety net, and so he enlists the help of career criminal and next-door neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy) to train Josh, Charlie, Enrique, and Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), who was recently evicted from his place in the Tower, on the finer points of burglary. Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), a maid at the apartment complex, joins in, as she has the ability to break any lock.

The preparation for the robbery is minimal and played mostly for throwaway laughs (Enrique buys ski caps instead of masks, Josh builds a floor plan of Shaw's apartment using children's toys, and Slide has never technically broken into a place to rob it). This would be fine if the screenplay and Ratner maintained the sense of humor once the scheme starts. Many details appear in the moment with no real explanation as to how they occur (They somehow arrange to change Shaw's court date, and yet, no one—even government agents—questions that it would mean federal court would be session on a federal holiday), and a pair of double-crosses are undermined by the fact that we are in the dark as to how they actually affect the unknown plan in the first place.

Despite the gaps in logic, once the break-in itself begins Tower Heist finds an unexpected verve. The characters, poorly established as half-hearted excuses for the roles they're supposed to play during the robbery (Enrique is an engineer with little to no engineering experience, and Fitzhugh comes down with an understandable case of acrophobia at an inopportune moment), start to show some personality as the situation continually veers off-course. The staging of the bit with the car is the highlight, although we have to wonder why they go through all the trouble when it seems to somehow magically teleport to a convenient location as required by the hole-filled script.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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