Unreal Movie Review: Tower Heist

It seemed like just the right sort of moment for a film like this. With Occupy Wall Street protesting that 1% of the country is running away with the money that the rest of the hard working 99% deserve and need, a modern day version of Robin Hood would seem to line up perfectly with audience demands.

But Brett Ratner is far from a prophet, and though he may have conceived this film during the Wall Street crisis of a few years back, relevancy alone does not give Tower Heist a free pass. The film should stand on its own, and outside of its relatable themes about wanting to punish excess greed, there’s not too terribly much of anything interesting to see here.

What we have is a poor man’s Ocean’s 11 which postulates how that heist might have gone if the crew was made up of morons with no discernible skills. Josh (Ben Stiller) spends his life sucking up to various rich clients at his Manhattan tower apartment complex where he works as manager, but his world is turned upside down when his richest tenant, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is convicted of securities fraud. He’s going down, and he’s going to take the entire pension fund of every hotel staff member with him, as Josh had trusted him to invest all their cash wisely some years back.

I did appreciate Broderick being in another movie that has a classic Ferrari as a central character.

After learning that Shaw is an elaborate scam artist who purposefully screwed with him, and that he has $20M in cash hidden from the FBI somewhere in his penthouse, Josh concocts a plan. He enlists the help of some fellow down-and-outers, the newly hired elevator operator Enqrique (Michael Pena), an evicted client Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), his brother-in-law and hotel concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck) and finally, childhood acquaintance and neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy), who as a recent felon is supposed to possess the criminal knowhow to pull off a job like this.

To call them a motley crew is something of an understatement. In Ocean’s 11, there may have been some characters, but they all had very useful skill sets. Here, no one possesses a thread of anything resembling intelligence. Josh is a not very good chess player, Enqrique went to online school for a few electrician classes, Mr. Fitzhugh does a few math problems. Even Slide, who is heralded as some criminal mastermind has to outsource safe-cracking, and spends the entire film doing nothing but try to screw the gang over at every turn.

It’s another case of a misleading trailer, as it would have you believe that Murphy is practically the second lead to Ben Stiller, and spends the film instructing the crew and planning the heist. In reality, he doesn’t even show up until there’s about 45 minutes left in the film, and is a weasel that has no useful criminal skills and spends his screentime as a secondary bad guy, trying to get away with all the cash for himself. And it’s not even some grand twist I’m revealing, he’s just like this from moment one. Murphy has no chemistry with any of the other actors, and feels completely extraneous to the plot when it appeared he was going to be the central focus, and this was supposed to be some sort of comeback role for him.

Far from the buddy comedy you were expecting.

Then there’s the idiocy of the plot itself that expects us to believe that this idiot cabal could even come close to stealing that much money. The film has them breaking into his penthouse, but when, surprise, the money isn’t in the first place they look, the direction the plot goes from there is absolutely goofy and bends the believability of the film along with completely breaking a couple laws of physics.

But there’s inherently nothing wrong with an absurdly goofy heist film, even one with an overly loopy plot. It would all be forgivable if the movie was funny, but more often than not, it’s just rather mundane. Yes, there are moments when you’ll chuckle, but Tower Heist suffers from the good old “the funny parts were in the trailer” syndrome, as if you made a list of the top ten lines in the film, you’d only get to six before stopping, and five of them you’d have already seen in the previews.

The fact is, Tower Heist could have been a cool little robbery film with some bonus commentary about the rich/poor divide. Instead there are few actual laughs to be found, and the actors rely on basic characters they’ve played a dozen times to provide humor that the script itself lacks. It would be a genuine shock if you saw this film and ever thought about it again tomorrow or any day after.

2 out of 5 stars

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  1. Dang, after seeing Tropic Thunder for the first time last week, I was actually hoping for a funny buddy film, plot be damned. I mean Ben Stiller has his moments, and Eddie Murphy is due for something good again. Seeing this and other reviews, I guess not yet :/

  2. Sounds exactly how I had imagined it. I mean, I wanted this movie to be good and be a huge, hilarious, bring-these-guys’-careers-back-from-the-dead comedy, but I just knew that all the funny parts would be the ones in the trailer. Great expectations…shattered dreams.

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