Tower Heist is a satisfying film that performs according to all expectations, never once daring to be more than it is. The heist comedy is typical Brett Ratner – slick, funny, and with only one agenda, to keep you entertained for a full 100 minutes. Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy lead a capable ensemble cast that includes Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, and Michael Peña as members of the misfit crew out to relieve a Bernie Madoff-like swindler, played Alan Alda, of his millions. All are pursued by Téa Leoni’s FBI agent, a woman who wishes these men would just behave themselves.
The story centers around The Tower, an exclusive Manhattan apartment complex managed by Josh Kovaks (Stiller). He’s attuned to his working class roots but maintains a close, respectful relationship with the wealthy residents under his watch. When he sees Arthur Shaw (Alda), an investment advisor, being kidnapped, he gives chase, only to be told by the FBI that Shaw was actually trying to leave the country to evade financial fraud charges. Since Josh suggested that Shaw manage his coworkers’ pension funds, he finds himself in a bit of a situation. His only recourse, naturally, is to break into Shaw’s flat and steal some – lots – of money.
The caper is no small feat and even involves weaving in and out of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it’s small scale if we’re comparing it to something like Ocean’s Eleven, which made great use of its sprawling and glamorous locale. That the heist is contained mostly within the sterile if upscale walls of the Tower doesn’t mean the movie’s short on action though. Besides the usual overly elaborate safe-cracking attempt, the crew make an audacious go at nicking Shaw’s prized Ferrari, the one he keeps idle in middle of his penthouse. Ratner makes the most of his expensive prop, and these sequences provide short but intense bursts of adrenaline.
The film tries to compensate for its lack of breadth and intricacy of plot with comedy. Peña stands out in almost every film he’s in and again delivers some cheeky humor as a new employee who happily goes along for the ride, because why the hell not. Broderick has some wonderfully deadpan moments as well, playing a bankrupt investor who uses the heist to come to grips with the reality of his situation. Though Stiller manages some good jabs, he also ends up directing traffic and holding the line for Murphy’s manic energy to come through. The latter plays Josh’s old classmate and a seasoned crook, of course, charged with schooling the amateurs on how to commit grand larceny. It’s a bit of a return to old form for the comic but the dynamic between his character and the rest of the gang also seem to be a vestige from the Eighties.
One thing Tower Heist willfully avoids, for better or worse, is an indictment of the criminal banking class. There’s a measure of righteous anger; Josh conceives of his plan after a coworker tries to commit suicide when he finds out his pension has disappeared. But financial fraud, class divisions, and greed merely form the backdrop. These underline the story to be sure but don’t carry that much weight once things are set in motion. Affleck’s character, an expectant father, waffles at one point and has to decide if he wants to keep his job or his friends. The more satisfying motivation, however, is simply to exact revenge on a smug asshole.
Prod: Brian Grazer, Eddie Murphy, Kim Roth
Dir: Brett Ratner
Writer: Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson
Cast: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe
Time: 104 min
Country: United States