‘Tower Heist’ not as funny as it should have been
It would be too easy to say “Tower Heist” is just another Brett Ratner concoction: lots of fun without any intelligence. It would be too easy to say “Tower Heist,” while shoddy at times, dangerously devoid of the details that make a heist picture thrilling and unaware of the boundaries of credulity, is still worth the time spent. But hey, if “Tower Heist” can take the easy way out, why can’t I?
“Tower Heist,” an action comedy directed by Ratner (“X-Men: The Last Stand”), sticks to a tried-and-true plot: A rich guy has stolen money from working stiffs, and they devise some improbable crime to recoup what they have lost. It’s a populist take on “Ocean’s 11,” just not as good. But with a stunning array of cast members bombarding the screen in a frenetic free-for-all, you’d expect a funnier and better-paced movie than the mild caper to which we’re subjected.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs in a disappointly similar role to his “Night at the Museum” character — a dedicated Everyman, in this case the building manager of a Manhattan luxury high-rise at the southwestern corner of Central Park. (The movie, though shot in the Trump Tower, was careful to remove any reference to the real estate mogul.)
Josh, though, soon discovers that his boss, entitled Wall Street tycoon Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda, “M*A*S*H”), has swindled the hotel’s employees out of their pensions in a Bernard Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. The infuriating part is that Josh was the one who asked Shaw to care for their investments, so with the anger at the deception by a man he once admired comes a sense of responsibility to fix the problem. So he confronts Shaw, only to be fired with two of his coworkers: inept concierge Charlier (Casey Affleck, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) and the recently hired elevator operator Enrique (Michael Peña, “Shooter”).
After being tipped by a sympathetic FBI agent (Téa Leoni, “Flirting with Diaster”) that Shaw most likely has a substantial safety net hidden away, Josh organizes a less-than-crack team of disgruntled hotel employees to steal the emergency fund (some $20 million). In addition to his aggrieved hotel friends, in on the plan are bankrupt former Wall Street investor Chase Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), Josh’s childhood acquaintance-turned-criminal Slide (Eddie Murphy, “Beverly Hills Cop”), soon-to-retire doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson, “Everyday People”) and Jamaican housemaid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”), who turns out to be an ace safe cracker.
Considering Josh’s intimate knowledge of the hotel, he has a solid guess as to where the money would be hidden, and decides to storm the castle (Shaw’s penthouse), which is now guarded by FBI agents, during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The following casing sessions are shockingly devoid of details. Important plot points are missing (either edited away or never done to begin with), and the escapades are so outrageous you’re both amused and annoyed. There are moments of hilarious comedy, but the sloppiness surrounding the scenes proves detrimental.
The highlights of “Tower Heist,” though, revolve around three characters: Murphy, Leoni and Alda.
Murphy, playing an uncomfortably stereotypical criminal, reminds us just how funny the man can be. Breaking from his “Shreks” and “Dr. Dolittles,” Murphy shows us an earlier, more volatile performance and a welcome return to form.
And while Leoni, an off-beat comedic genius in her own right, didn’t receive nearly enough screen time, her drunken bar scene will conjure memories of her last pairing with Stiller in “Flirting with Diaster.”
Alda, after years as the nice guy on “M*A*S*H,” seems to revel in portraying malevolence incarnate, and he does so in “Tower Heist” with enough force to leave you outraged at his condescension and elitism.
“Tower Heist,” when it comes down to it, is escapism at its best. You won’t laugh much, but at least you won’t finish it by plotting some way to steal back your time.
Three capering stars out of five.