Shtick of it tall
With Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick; Running Time: 104 minutes; Written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson; Directed by Brett Ratner; Rated PG-13 (for language and sexual content)
Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is a detail man, which makes him the perfect general manager for the posh Tower, the most expensive residence in New York. He caters to the needs of everyone who lives there, and is good to his employees. He takes special care of Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the investment banker who lives in the penthouse complete with a rooftop swimming pool. Thus it is a surprise to everyone when FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) shows up to arrest Shaw for securities fraud.
The problem is that Josh has had Shaw invest the employees’ pension fund and what they now discover is that it is wiped out. This sets in motion the main plot of TOWER HEIST. It is an audacious scheme to find Shaw’s hidden cash and steal it back for the benefit of the employees. With the help of a small time crook named Slide (Eddie Murphy), Josh and his team plan to beat the building’s security system and make off with the loot.
The comedy comes from the fact that Josh and his team, including Slide, could not be less qualified to pull off the job. They include a former financial whiz kid (Matthew Broderick) who was evicted from the Tower, Josh’s brother-in-law (Casey Affleck) who isn’t sure where his loyalties lay, and a maid (Gabourey Sidibe) whose father is the greatest locksmith in Haiti. Further complicating matters is that that Claire and Josh seem to be striking sparks, at a time when she’s supervising the agents holding Shaw under house arrest in the penthouse.
This is a popcorn movie, plain and simple, evoking a number of other movies along the way, but generally letting its strong ensemble cast go to work. It turns out they play well together, whether it’s Judd Hirsch as Josh’s boss, a buttoned-down Stiller avoiding the whiny, nervous character he usually plays, a deliciously oily Alda as the Bernie Madoff-like swindler, or Murphy throwing off the family-friendly character he’s played for the better part of the last decade to instead hearken back to the days of “Beverly Hills Cop” and “48 Hrs.” All of these actors have done better work elsewhere, but they’re not slumming here. This cast gives the film a polish as shiny as the floors of the Tower lobby.
Director Brett Ratner, best known for the “Rush Hour” series, is no critic’s favorite. Yet he keeps the movie rolling at high speed, moving from character moments to big stunts – like a car hanging from the side of a building – with ease. He springs the plot surprises and reverses with aplomb, and everything falls into place like a well-oiled machine. It’s a smooth operation from start to finish.
Like those action or special effects movies that are essentially amusement park rides, “Tower Heist” is an action comedy that just wants to have fun and wants the audience to have fun too. Those who get caught up looking for the movie’s message or depth of character will be missing the point. This is a revenge fantasy against the greedheads who drove the country to the brink of economic disaster and accept no responsibility for their actions. It’s only a movie, but it’s nice to see somebody fighting back, even if it’s only for laughs.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.