Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, Tea Leoni and Michael Pena
Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeff Nathanson, Noah Baumbach, Leslie Dixon, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Russell Gewirtz and Ted Griffin
Within a few hours of having seen Tower Heist, an all-star action comedy directed by Brett Ratner (The Rush Hour films), the film will have faded from your memory and odds are fairly decent that you'll have a hard time remembering a single gag from the film.
That said, the nearly two hours you spend watching Tower Heist are likely to leave you laughing much of the time and smiling enthusiastically for the remainder of the film. Most folks, film critics aside, don't necessarily concern themselves with the lasting impact of a film ... especially not a straightforward action comedy. What really matters is "Will Tower Heist make you laugh?" and "Will fans of the cast of all-stars in the film actually enjoy the performances?"
The answer is "Yes" to both questions.
Tower Heist well-timed comedy about the "haves," in this case represented by Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), and the "Have Nots," in this case represented by the other 99%. Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the manager of The Tower, a super-exclusive New York City high-rise on Columbus Circle that also happens to be the home of the aforementioned Arthur Shaw, an investor and #138 on the Forbes 400 who just so happens to live in the luxurious penthouse. Shaw is picked up the FBI for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme, but bad goes to worse when Josh has to tell The Tower's staff that a few years earlier Shaw had been hired to manage their pensions.
Shaw ends up on house arrest and confined to his penthouse in The Tower (Boy, that's believable!), much to the chagrin of Josh and his co-workers. Josh's outrage leads to a misguided decision to go whup-ass on one of Shaw's prized possession, a decision that promptly leads to his termination along with that of his brother-in-law (Casey Affleck), a crappy concierge anyway, and the new guy, Dev'Reaux (Michael Pena). The lead FBI agent on the case, a terrific Tea Leoni, spills the beans that they suspect that Shaw is still hiding a good sum of money somewhere and they haven't been able to find it.
You can probably guess where the film is going from here.
Our trio of unemployed blue-collared workers, along with a recently foreclosed resident of The Tower (Matthew Broderick), enlist the help of a neighborhood thug (Eddie Murphy) to break their way into this impenetrable fortress and steal back the money that Shaw stole from them.
It's not just that everyone here is doing what they usually do in films, but they happen to do here almost exactly what they do really well in films. So, while there's nothing here that's a stretch for anyone to their credit there's nobody here who phones in a performance.
A good majority of those in attendance at the film's promo screening in Indianapolis enjoyed the film tremendously, including several who referenced it as their favorite comedy in quite some time. While I'm not quite willing to stretch that far, Tower Heist is a consistently funny, feel good and surprisingly heartfelt comedy that would also prove quite popular should those Occupy Wall Street folks ever choose to have a film night.
Ben Stiller is well cast as both the high-energy, highly attentive manager and the slightly off-kilter former manager determined to get revenge for himself, but mostly for his employees. Stiller is nearly always convincing as the straight, yet still funny, guy. Stiller and Eddie Murphy are a dream pairing, and it works so well here that you can't help but wonder why they haven't done this before. With the exception of his work in Dreamgirls, this is Murphy's best performance in years. Murphy is funny, naughty, determined, edgy and just plain fun here in a way that harkens back to his Beverly Hills Cop days.
Speaking of best performances, Matthew Broderick also gives one of his most winning performances in quite some time as a hilariously droll investor with more than a few battle scars from his recent foreclosure and subsequent family departure. Michael Pena and Casey Affleck both prove they can handle comedy here despite possessing the film's most under-developed characters, while Alan Alda is deliciously creepy as the faux likable Arthur Shaw. Tea Leoni is simply marvelous as Agent Denham, turning one fantastic scene in a bar into one of the film's highlights. If you wondered if Hollywood would find a way to use recent Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), you'll be pleasantly surprised here as she turns into a Jamaican housekeeping seductress who also happens to be gifted at picking locks.
As consistently entertaining as Tower Heist is, it seldom elicits the kind of outrageous laughter that marks the best comedies nor, for that matter, does the film ever transcend its rather fundamental storyline and create anything of truly lasting value. While the image of our rather motley crew of wannabe thieves attempting to take possession of an awkwardly large object and trying to get it from the penthouse to the first floor is pretty amazingly hilarious, it's not long after the film that even that image starts to fade.
Co-writers Jeff Nathanson and Ted Griffin largely share final credit for the film's script, though several names have been attached to it at various points including a supposed re-working by Noah Baumbach. The film is best in its first half, not in small part because this is when Eddie Murphy is really front and center in the film. Once the heist begins, Murphy's character not only has less of a role but his dynamic with Ben Stiller changes and, as a result, so does quite a bit of the fun. While the heist's resolution is for the most part satisfying, there's also this sense that given these times there's a lot more that could have been done here to make this all play out much funnier and with much greater relevance.
Dante Spinotti lenses the film quite creatively, capturing quite a few great shots around The Tower, which is actually Trump Tower Columbus Circle). Christophe Beck's original score sparkles with an appropriate high energy, an energy that really pays off when Murphy's on the screen.
Tower Heist isn't a flawless film and one sure gets the sense it could have ben a lot better, but it's a funny and heartfelt film with a strong ensemble cast that comes ready made with a solid fan base. If you're a fan of anyone in this film, then there's a pretty darn good chance you'll find yourself having enjoyed yourself by the time the closing credits roll.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic