Initially developed as an African American take on Ocean’s Eleven, that’s all you need to know about Tower Heist in a nutshell. It’s a pale imitation of better movies, some of them being heist movies and some of them being comedies. It’s not a terrible movie, it’s just not as good as it should be (especially considering the fantastic cast assembled).
The plot focuses on the staff and residents of an exclusive tower apartment complex. All is well while everyone does their job properly and the residents enjoy their exclusive lifestyles until the person (Alan Alda) residing in the penthouse apartment is arrested for fraud. This affects everyone working at The Tower since the pension fund was entrusted to this man as a trusted moneymaker who could make the most profit for all involved. The pension is gone, as are the life savings of the long-standing doorman, Lester (Stephen Reynolds), and it looks like nobody will get any money back from the slippery crook. Which is just not good enough for Ben Stiller, who proceeds to hatch a plan (enlisting the help of a criminal played by Eddie Murphy) for a daring robbery that will fix everything for the affected staff. He is helped, and sometimes hindered, in this endeavour by some fellow employees (Michael Pena, Casey Affleck, Gabourey Sidibe) and an ex-resident (Matthew Broderick) of The Tower who had to leave after falling on hard times.
Director Brett Ratner isn’t someone you really expect greatness from but he can work well enough within his own limitations (the Rush Hour movies are good fun and I even liked X-Men: The Last Stand, so sue me) and this material, from a script by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, would appear to be the kind of stuff that he could film in his sleep. But it’s a shame that he appears to really have filmed it in his sleep.
There are a few fun moments here and there, the occasional great one-liner and even parts of the big heist are enjoyable, but most of the film feels lazy and like a bit of a wasted opportunity. Ben Stiller does his usual frustrated everyday Joe schtick while Eddie Murphy at least gets to lark about and fast-talk like he used to but it’s the supporting players who come out of this best. Matthew Broderick is hilarious, as are Casey Affleck, George Pena and Gabourey Sidibe.
The heist itself? The crucial element of most heist movies is exactly how the big job is planned and pulled off. In this regard, Tower Heist starts off well and looks as if it may work. It’s not such a bad thing if the laughs are a bit thin on the ground as long as the robbery makes up for it. Sadly, that all changes as things get sloppier and sloppier throughout the second half of the film, throwing in one hiccup after another until it seems like our lead characters are simply relying on pure chance and nerve as opposed to a smart, precise plan.
I’ll watch Tower Heist again. It’s a fun way to pass the time. It’s just nowhere near as good as it could/should have been.
DIRECTOR: BRETT RATNER
WRITER: TED GRIFFIN, JEFF NATHANSON
STARS: BEN STILLER, EDDIE MURPHY, MATTHEW BRODERICK, ALAN ALDA, TEA LEONI, MICHAEL PENA, GABOUREY SIDIBE, CASEY AFFLECK, JUDD HIRSCH, STEPHEN HENDERSON
RUNTIME: 104 MINS APPROX