2011, PG-13, 105 min. 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.
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.