Directed by Brett Ratner. Starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, Stephen Henderson. (2011, PG-13, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 4, 2011
Alert to the righteous rage of the 99%-ers and canny about how to mine that rage for laughs, Tower Heist is like Ocean’s Eleven meets class consciousness. Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the manager of a luxury condo building in Manhattan called the Tower. There, he commands a small army of housekeepers, concierges, doormen, and security guards who cater to the every whim of its pampered residents. Josh, it seems, is a people-pleaser, and Stiller, dialing it way down, imbues the character with decency and knuckle-down determination.
The determination comes in handy when the Tower’s penthouse-dwelling big-shot investor Arthur Shaw (Alda) is taken into federal custody for some funny business with the books. Josh had previously entrusted Shaw to handle his entire staff’s pension plans – gone, all of it, in a Madoff-like torching – and now the people-pleasing building manager wants revenge. Going rogue, Josh gathers a motley crew – including Eddie Murphy’s ex-con Slide – to filch the $20 million safety net Shaw has hidden in his penthouse.
A constitutionally glib director, Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series) is nonetheless a professional: He’s made a lean and likable action comedy that motors along at a satisfying clip. Scenes never overstay their welcome; indeed, at film’s end, one half-remembers hints of storylines never returned to, and one wonders if swaths of the script – by Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven) and Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me if You Can) – were ruthlessly excised by quality control for not fulfilling one of two directives – to service the action, or to service the comedy. Tower Heist isn’t interested much in the interior lives of its characters or even their exterior lives: Josh’s Astoria apartment looks air-brushed out of a Pottery Barn catalogue, which doesn’t at all jibe with what we know of him. Still, Ratner has an eye for casting – from the top down, it’s a terrific assemblage of actors: There’s Murphy, mouth moving faster than the speed of light; Sidibe as a take-no-prisoners Jamaican housemaid; Broderick, podgy and gallows-grim as a ruined Wall Streeter; and the criminally underrated Leoni, who does more with five minutes as a fun drunk than more, ahem, A-list actresses accomplish in whole movies. To a one, they nail the humor, all right, but they also, quite crucially, humanize the high concept.