With Brett Ratner at the helm and a cast like this, it should come as no surprise to learn that Tower Heist is incredibly dumb. It’s stupid on such a monumental scale that you’re likely to yell out “Oh come on!” at the screen on several occasions. Indeed, this is a heist movie without the intelligence of Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job – instead, Ratner merely aimed to throw a few big stars into a slickly-produced action-comedy to entertain the masses. Astonishingly, the finished product is more fun than it had any right to be. Say what you will about Ratner, but he knows how to make a good-looking movie and he’s skilled at creating enjoyable cinematic junk food.
Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is the building manager at an exclusive New York City high-rise known as The Tower. Inhabiting the penthouse is the powerful and wealthy Arthur Shaw (Alda), who commands a lot of respect from the staff. However, the FBI are onto Shaw’s case, and soon arrest him on the charge of securities fraud. As it turns out, Shaw’s entire portfolio is fake, and all of the money invested in him – including the pension fund of The Tower’s workers – has vanished, shocking Josh and his colleagues. With Shaw under guarded house arrest, Josh sets out to make things right, dreaming up a scheme to steal the $20 million that he’s convinced is hidden in Shaw’s apartment. To do this, Josh recruits co-workers Charlie (Affleck), Enrique (Peña) and Odessa (Sidibe), as well as failed Wall Street business Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick) and petty criminal Slide (Murphy).
Tower Heist has a lot of glaring problems in the logistics department. Without going into specifics, the hijinks that ensue as the gang pull off the heist are beyond the unbelievable (neither a window washing platform nor an elevator can support the weight of a car). And there are a number of holes (Josh fakes a court order but how the fuck did he manage to pull it off so credibly?) and stupid plot devices (the guards are distracted by a Playboy magazine for hours and never look at their monitors while the heist is happening?), not to mention the characters are shallow and make little sense (Charlie changes sides a lot without any logic or reason, and Slide and Odessa’s flirtations lead nowhere). There are several other plot elements which fail to sit right, too. Indeed, Tower Heist is tailor-made for viewers who don’t care about cohesiveness, coherency or consistency. To its credit, though, the script does take a few unexpected directions – the romantic subplot between Josh and an FBI agent is handled in a surprisingly unconventional fashion, and the film’s ending is not as realistically contrived as it could’ve been. Nevertheless, the film needed major rewrites before going in front of the cameras.
Brett Ratner is hated far and wide, yet the director is not nearly as bad as his reputation implies. His films are usually cheery and fun (see the Rush Hour series), and Tower Heist proves that he’s still able to create serviceable, crowd-pleasing escapism. Scoring a satisfying amount of laughs as it goes about its business, the picture moves with a commendably fleet foot, entertaining and pleasing for pretty much every frame of its 100-minute runtime. This is essentially the director’s answer to the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, melding the intrigue and ensemble dynamics of those pictures with Ratner’s signature action-comedy style. The combo results in an infectious energy, and the rock-solid production values combined with an armrest-clenching climax is the icing on top. But while Tower Heist is funny, the script irritatingly cuts a few corners. For instance, in one scene Slide locks the rest of the gang on a rooftop in the snow and tells them to pick the lock. Suddenly, there’s an abrupt transition to the next scene when they’re all inside. Huh?
A lot of critics have praised Eddie Murphy’s performance here, and for good reason. At last, after doing too many dumb kids’ movies and low-brow comedies, Murphy has returned to form with Tower Heist, playing a smart-ass in the funniest performance he’s delivered in at least a decade. It’s wonderful to see Murphy having fun with such a politically incorrect role that allows him plenty of leeway for one-liners. However the PG-13 rating does restrict the content, and one can’t help but imagine how fantastic Murphy could’ve been with the freedom to have a potty mouth. Ben Stiller and Casey Affleck, meanwhile, are somewhat unmemorable here, though Matthew Broderick and Michael Peña are both an absolute riot. Acclaimed Precious star Gabourey Sidibe even shows up in the film, putting on a hammy Jamaican accent to great comedic effect. Also impressive is Alan Alda, who capably sells both sides of Shaw’s persona: a gentle grandfather, and an evil schemer.
In its early life, Tower Heist was pitched by Eddie Murphy as an urban version of Ocean’s Eleven starring the likes of Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Eddie Griffin. But the script was eventually transformed into the blue-collar alternative to Steven Soderbergh’s ritzy movies. The judge is out about which version would’ve worked better, but, at the end of the day, Tower Heist is a lot of fun, even if it’s not as brilliantly-constructed or as memorable as cinema’s best heist movies.