Friday, November 4, 2011

Tower Heist

Review by Bob Ignizio

Is TOWER HEIST yet another example of Hollywood pushing its “liberal” agenda, or a very conservative and calculated attempt to make a buck by giving audiences what they want? Probably a little bit of both. Any social commentary that might have been in the script is drawn with the broadest strokes, though, and ultimately gets reduced to a harmless wish fulfillment fantasy about sticking it to the man. Still, there's no denying that fantasy feels kind of satisfying.

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) manages the staff of an extremely exclusive tower apartment building. He seemingly knows everything about everyone of the tower's tenants, enabling him to often meet their needs before they even ask for anything, and is well liked by co-workers and residents alike. He even seems to have something of a friendship with Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Wall Street investor with whom Josh plays chess.

When the FBI shows up to arrest Shaw for defrauding investors, Josh is his staunchest defender. Maybe he really believes the guy is innocent, or maybe he just doesn't want to think about the fact that he had Shaw invest the pension fund for all the tower employees, and that now that money may be gone. Eventually, though, the evidence that Shaw is another Bernie Madoff proves inescapable. Unfortunately, as FBI agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni) informs Josh, even if Shaw gets convicted, any funds he has left will go to the big banks he owes money to first.

This being a movie, the only solution is for Josh to plot a ridiculously complex heist to get his employees' pensions back. To that end, he recruits a few select co-workers including his brother-in-law Charles (Casey Affleck), new elevator operator Enrique (Michael Peña), and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe ), a maid with some locksmith training. For some reason they also ask former tenant Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) to join in, and since none of them have any criminal experience, Josh also asks Slide (Eddie Murphy), a neighbor who he has seen get arrested several times, for help.

This is all makes for pretty standard issue (and ridiculous) fare, but that doesn't mean it's not entertaining. For starters, this is the first time in quite a while that Eddie Murphy has played the sort of smart-mouthed, streetwise character he excelled at in films like TRADING PLACES and BEVERLY HILLS COP. There's no fat suits and no requirement that he be family-friendly, so Murphy can just be funny again for a change. It's such a welcome return that one can almost overlook his character's sudden and unexplained transformation from third rate petty thief into super crook during the actual heist.

Stiller is surprisingly good, too. I mean, I knew from THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY that he was capable of being a great straight man. It's just that he's made so many horrible films since then that I tend to forget. For every decent credit on his resume like THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS or TROPIC THUNDER, there's 2 godawful FOCKERS movies, a ZOOLANDER, and a STARSKY AND HUTCH.

Director Brett Ratner may not be the best director in the world, but after 3 RUSH HOUR movies, he does know how to keep a dumb mainstream action comedy chugging along. As sloppy as the screenplay he's working with here is, it really is a testament to Ratner's direction and the work of his cast that TOWER HEIST works at all. If you stop to think about what you're watching for even a second, it all falls apart, but Ratner doesn't let that happen. It may not be enough to warrant high praise, but it does at least earn the film a borderline passing grade from this reviewer. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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