When a group of employees at New York apartment complex The Tower fall victim to a Ponzi scheme involving The Tower’s wealthy owner, they plan to rob his penthouse apartment to claim back their money.
Brett Ratner’s career has seen him create an eclectic mix of films but there’s no doubt his greatest success, with audience and critics alike, has been the Rush Hour series. It’s no surprise then to see Ratner return to that brand of high concept, big budget comedy-action with Tower Heist. A well-cast, slick heist movie, Tower Heist centres around a group of employees in a high class New York apartment complex who aim to steal back the money that Alan Alda’s Bernie Madoff-esque executive has swindled from them.
Heading up the unlikely group is Ben Stiller, in likeable everyman mode as Josh, general manager of ‘The Tower’, home to some of New York’s richest men. Richest of them all is Arthur Shaw, owner of The Tower and resident of the penthouse apartment. Josh and Shaw have a great relationship built around their working class upbringing and love of online chess. When the FBI, lead by Agent Denham (Tea Leoni) apprehends Shaw for fraudulent activities, it’s revealed that Josh, along with the rest of the building’s employees, had allowed Shaw to invest their pension fund which has now gone up in smoke.
In a dark twist that seems to belong to a different, more serious film, loveable door man Lester (Stephen McKinley Henderson), days away from his dream retirement, attempts suicide. Agent Denham reveals to Josh during a drunken night that Shaw still has $20 million unaccounted for. This prompts Josh to assemble a ragtag band of employees to help him infiltrate Shaw’s penthouse apartment to find the $20 million and restore everyone’s pensions. His crew is made up of reluctant clerk Charlie (Casey Affleck), bankrupt stockbroker Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), new elevator engineer Enrique (Michael Pena) and sassy Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). This is a strong cast, with Sidibe clearly having a blast and Pena displaying the comedic chops that made him a standout in 30 Minutes Or Less and Observe & Report.
The ace in the hole however, in terms of the plot and the film, is Eddie Murphy’s petty criminal Slide. Josh and Slide grew up on the same block and the gang enlist him to teach them the ways of stealing. This is prime Murphy, ditching the family friendly persona and fat suits for a snappy, foul mouthed performance that’s more akin to his best work in the likes of 48 Hours than any of his recent comedic duds. The only problem is, and this is a bizarre statement given his penchant for playing multiple roles, but for once there isn’t enough of him. Although the rest of the film is fine and the cast can get some sniggers, the only time there are any true laughs is when Murphy is around.
Therein lies Tower Heist’s main flaw. It’s too silly and fluffy to be an out and out heist movie but there aren’t enough laughs either. It’s an extremely slick film, with some fantastic shots and well crafted set pieces, particularly the ridiculous yet spectacular scene involving a priceless Ferrari being moved from one floor to another via a window cleaner’s lift. So while it’s never boring, it’s ultimately a forgettable slice of Hollywood action-comedy.