TOWER HEIST is high-stakes action comedy from Brett Ratner that plays like OCEAN’S 11 meets RUSH HOUR, with the all-star cast plotting a big score against an evil bigwig and the fast-paced, interracial buddy humor. The result is a perfectly serviceable, harmless lark -- entertaining in the moment, but ultimately forgettable, which pretty much sums up Ratner’s filmography (which also includes such good-but-not-great films as RED DRAGON and X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) in a nutshell.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, general manager of the Trump Tower in NYC (though the “Trump” name is ever shown or uttered), who, along with his crew of concierges, maids, doormen and elevator operators, lives to serve the ultra-rich residents of the luxury condo. The richest of the rich is Arthur Shaw, played with convincing craftiness by Alan Alda -- a Madoff-esque billionaire who gets busted for swindling untold sums of money, including the hard-earned pensions of everyone working at the Tower. Needless to say, the workers are pissed... so Kovacs decides to take matters into his own hands, along with cohorts played by Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña and Gabourey Sidibe and with assistance from wise-cracking ex-con named Slide (Eddie Murphy). The plan: (1) Sneak into the most heavily guarded residential building in the world. (2) Break into the penthouse apartment where Shaw is being detained under FBI supervision. (3) Steal $20 million in cash that may or may not be hidden there. Should be no problem for the people who know the inner workings of the building better than anyone else... right?
I particularly like how the movie is something of a love letter to the bustling Columbus Circle section of Manhattan -- an area that I pass through often (it’s situated halfway between two of my favorite movie theatres, Lincoln Square and the Zeigfeld) and don’t recall ever having seen so well-represented on the big screen. The Tower is depicted as the height of New York luxury, and the sweeping shots of the vicinity do for its signature silver unisphere what OCEAN’S 11 did for the Bellagio fountains. The comedy only inspires mild, sporadic chuckles but dialogue is rapid-fire and the heist action is solid. The plan is, of course, preposterous, but it’s fun to see it unfurl, with a couple of twists sprinkled here and there to keep us engaged.
Performances are fine, too, though it remains to be seen whether or not this will finally be the comeback vehicle that Eddie Murphy has been seeking. For that to happen, I think he really needs to be in an old-school comedy, a la TRADING PLACES or COMING TO AMERICA. Frankly, anything less than an R rating does him no favors -- and here, he seems to be invoking Donkey more than, say, Axel Foley, which is most unfortunate. (Also interesting to note that ever since I first saw the trailer, up until the closing credits, I seriously thought it was Lauren Graham playing the FBI agent / Stiller’s love interest... but turns out it’s Téa Leoni! Silly me. But tell me they don’t look alike these days.)
TOWER HEIST opens this Friday and I don’t mind recommending it if you have two hours to kill, $13 burning a hole in your pocket and you’ve already seen DRIVE, THE SKIN I LIVE IN, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and any number of far more worthwhile films. It’s certainly no OCEAN’S 11 (or even FAST FIVE) as far as recent, star-studded, over-the-top heist flicks are concerned... but at least you won’t walk out feeling like you were the one who got fleeced.