Saturday, December 10, 2011

Upcoming Release Review: Tower Heist (Brett Ratner, 2011)

Tower Heist hits Australian cinemas on Boxing Day.

Tower Heist is the latest action/comedy film from Brett Ratner (Rush Hour and Red Dragon), conceived from a screenplay by Ted Griffiths (Killers and Ocean’s Eleven – really?) and Jeff Nathanson (Rush Hour 3 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). It follows Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), the building manager of The Tower, a high-rise luxury apartment complex in Manhattan, and fellow employees Charlie (Casey Affleck), Enrique (Michael Pena) and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), who lose their pensions in the Ponzi Scheme of a wealthy Wall Street businessman and resident, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). Lester (Stephen Henderson), Josh’s close friend and the building’s doorman, attempts suicide after being shattered by the news that his entire pension is gone. Josh retaliates by confronting Shaw (who was arrested by the FBI trying to flee and assigned to house arrest) but ends up getting himself and his friends fired.

Josh enlists the help of Slide (Eddie Murphy), an imprisoned criminal who presumably makes bail by way of Stiller’s own money, and a bankrupt businessman, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a resident of The Tower who is preparing to be permanently evicted, to help break into Shaw’s high rise apartment and steal $20 Million dollars they believe he has stashed somewhere inside. Equipped with inside knowledge of the layout and security procedures, the incompetent gang relies on the expertise of Slide and attempt an elaborate heist to steal back enough to cover their lost pensions, while trying to avoid an FBI Agent in charge of Shaw’s case (Tea Leoni).

Tower Heist takes far too long to really get going. I might be one of the few who found the comedy to be very hit-and-miss throughout, but it’s very obviously absent in the dull first act. We are introduced to the characters, their professions, their acquaintance to Shaw, and their individual motivations for collaborating together. It’s close to an hour before the film really gets interesting - and then it gets increasingly silly, throwing in an unnecessary subplot involving a romance between Josh and Denham, and as many references to chess as possible.

The film’s awareness of heist clichés (and toying with zany ways to subvert them) and general corniness does work in its favour at times – but it’s on pretty rare occasions that an original laugh is produced and few that work effectively in succession. Though the film’s energy picks up when motor-mouth con Eddie Murphy enters, this is far from a return to form for him. There are too many times where we are asked to suspend our disbelief, ignore the frustrating ludicrousness of the premise and the implausibility of the situations. There are occasions in this film where the audience is willing to overlook such things, but it grows wearying after a while.

If it wasn't for the giant Snoopy balloon, and a copy of French Playboy, the crew would have hit an early snag, managing to sneak past the assumedly 'top notch' but actually 'incompetent' security team. The fact that Odessa happened to know how to open complicated safes was also somewhat...convenient. Say the car had been lowered a little bit further (capable) so that it was actually within the reach of Mr. Fitzhugh, all of the tension and high-rise acrobatics that followed would not have been necessary. But, this actually results in one of the film’s most spectacular scenes. This problem, rather than being forgivable, actually proves to be distracting. Also, I was hoping the seemingly impossible process of getting the car from the top of the elevator and into the rooftop swimming pool would be explained in the closing credits. It wasn’t.

Tower Heist is one of the most mindless films I have seen this year. Bizarrely, the film remains somewhat enjoyable, despite one realizing almost immediately that this is not a particularly well-conceived premise and despite the unusual way the robbery unfolds it still ends up like countless heist films before it. I’d like to say the cast gives it a lift, but as I said, Murphy isn’t as successful as many have claimed. Stiller is unusually bland, while Broderick and Affleck (the latter is capable of being a great actor at times) aren’t particularly funny either. Most of the laughs come from a typecast Michael Pena and Precious herself, Gabourey Sidibe, which I admit is a little odd. Alan Alda is well cast as the smug swindler who shows a cold-hearted lack of remorse about ripping off his loyal employees.

Though it will still be a crowd-pleaser, I left the film puzzled as to why this film had to exist when a film like Ocean’s Eleven, which is far more competently made, features a better cast and a smarter premise and produces more laughs, already does. I thought the use of the Thanksgiving Day parade was a nice touch, and the blue-collar working stiffs vs. greedy Wall Street investors (like Bernie Madoff) will likely hit a spot with some viewers too. I wanted to like this more than I did, and though there are a few big laughs, and some genuinely exciting moments during the robbery, the lacklustre resume of the recently shamed former Academy Award producer has not received a boost here.

My Rating: ★★ (C-)


  1. You'd think with an Ocean's Eleven writer on board the film would be better than it seems to be (from what you've said!). I may go see this for Alan Alda buuutt....yeah, I won't have my hopes up! Great review!

  2. Made me laugh and held my interest more than it should have, given how sloppy it is. Call it an acceptable bit of B-minus work from a C student. Good review Andy. Eddie had me laughing the most here.

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