An unofficial kick-off of the 2011 holiday movie season, Tower Heist is as over-inflated as those Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons that are featured in the movie’s climax. Also similarly, it’s entertaining in its own predictable way. The latest comedy-action film from director Brad Ratner (the Rush Hour trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand) is a shaggy affair, but it’s intermittently inspired in its action sequences and the comic business of its sprawling cast.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs in a role not terribly different from his Night at the Museum character – he’s a dedicated subaltern, in this case the building manager of a high-end apartment hotel in New York (it’s shot in the Trump Tower).
When Josh discovers that his boss, smug Wall Street tycoon Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who lives in the hotel’s penthouse, has swindled the hotel employees out of their pensions, he organizes a team of disgruntled hotel workers to break into Shaw’s suite to steal back their lost money.
Josh learns of the swindle when the FBI arrests Shaw. When he confronts his boss, he gets fired along with two other employees: bumbling concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck) and the recently hired Enrique (Michael Pena). A sympathetic FBI agent (Tea Leoni) tips Josh off that Shaw probably has a substantial emergency fund stashed somewhere.
Knowing the building as well as he does, Josh guesses where the money may be and decides to organize a team to get into the penthouse, now guarded by FBI agents, to steal the money back. In addition to his aggrieved hotel pals, the conspirators include bankrupt former Wall Street investor Chase Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), Josh’s childhood acquaintance-turned-criminal Slide (Eddie Murphy), soon-to-retire doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson) and Jamaican housemaid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), who, conveniently, is an ace safe cracker.
The planning sessions are low on detail and big on collective riffing, mostly thanks to Murphy, back being funny after more than a decade, as the rude, motor-mouthed Slide. Also strong is Broderick as the nebbish investor, playing Slide’s polite, hangdog opposite.
But the most welcome performance here comes from Leoni as a blunt, unorthodox federal agent. A scene where she gets drunk with Josh is a reminder of her superb off-beat comic timing, which has not really been properly showcased since she co-starred with Stiller in Flirting with Disaster back in the nineties.
Tower Heist moves in fits and starts, and there’s far too much slack between the planning and the execution of the robbery. The actual heist, though, has some highly effective, vertigo-inducing scenes as the crooks are required to take their surprising booty down the outside of the building, overlooking the Macy’s parade.
On the walls of Shaw’s luxurious pad are a number of famous-looking paintings, including Andy Warhol’s portrait of Chairman Mao, the icon of a different kind of revolution. In contrast, Tower Heist’s topical theme of Wall Street payback reflects a more American philosophy of class warfare: Steal from the rich, and keep it for yourself.
- Directed by Brett Ratner
- Written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson
- Starring Ben Stiller, Tea Leoni and Alan Alda
- Classification: PG