Movie Review :: Tower Heist (2011) (PG-13)

Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist is a triumph of casting and performance over plot, which is admittedly far-fetched and rather ridiculous. It is, essentially, a cross between a crime caper and a revenge fantasy – and a timely one at that, given the recent Bernie Madoff scandal and the current Wall Street protests, which has left so many people in a state of unrest. Here is a movie intentionally designed to be a crowd pleaser; it’s not an enriching experience, but it provides you with several good laughs, and it ends on an immensely satisfying note. When you leave the theater, you’re more likely to reflect on the humor and the action than on the logistics of the story, or lack thereof. If you do stop and think about them, you will inevitably find that the movie is not physically, dramatically, or rationally possible.

What I savored was the wonderful comedic chemistry between all of the leads, which is not easy to achieve. Apart from a return-to-form for stars Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller (neither having been in a good comedy in years), we see great wit and energy from the likes of Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Peña, Téa Leoni, and many of the smaller supporting players. I grant you it’s an odd bunch of people. Some of them, including Broderick, might even seem like ill-fitting casting choices. But if you give them half a chance, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you see. Watching them perform, I sensed that they were genuinely having fun during the shoot. If they weren’t, well, that only proves what they’re capable of as actors.

The story, as it were, involves the staff of a New York City high-rise discovering that they have fallen victim to a Ponzi scheme concocted by one of the tenants, a wealthy Wall Street businessman named Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). This would include the building’s manager, Josh Kovacs (Stiller), who mistakenly trusted Shaw with not just his pension but also the pensions of the entire staff. Determined to get reparations, Kovacs assembles a team and plots to break into Shaw’s penthouse suite and steal millions in stashed-away money. These include: Slide (Murphy), a petty criminal Kovacs regularly passes on the street; Charlie Gibbs (Affleck), the building’s well-intentioned but bumbling concierge; Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick), a desperately broke former Wall Street investor; Odessa Montero (Sidibe), a Jamaican maid on the verge of being deported; and Enrique Dev’reaux (Peña), a newly hired bellhop who’s so likeable in large part because he’s says such stupid things.

Breaking into the penthouse will not be so easy. Shaw is under house arrest, and the building is enforced with the world’s best security and surveillance systems. The team must also sidestep the FBI, most notably Agent Claire Denham (Leoni), who has been assigned to Shaw’s case. She and Kovacs will share some interesting if unnecessary scenes together, all of which hint at mild romantic feelings. At least, I think that’s what was going on. It’s also quite possible that Kovacs is trying to distract Denham in an effort to throw her off track. The possibility of a Saturday-night dinner date confuses matters slightly, and perhaps that was the point. I think it would have been better for Ratner to avoid this subplot altogether, since it’s bogged down by its status as an obligatory plot device.

After some close calls and near double crossings – again, obligatory plot devices – all leads to Kovacs and his team trying to smuggle a Ferrari out of Shaw’s apartment on Thanksgiving Day. I will not reveal how and why they do this, or even if they succeed, although I will say that part of this involves the car dangling from a window cable hundreds of feet above the streets, where the Macy’s Parade floats by as scheduled. The best actor in this particular scene in Broderick, who, after doing it so well in The Producers, proves once again that people can be quite funny when they’re in a state of panic.

It cannot be denied that the film gets sillier the further along it goes. But I can’t overlook the fact that the movie gives us exactly what it promises, namely a tower and a heist. And I certainly can’t forget about the performances, which may not be eligible for awards but kept me smiling all throughout (I was especially taken by Peña, who can play dumb with the best of them). It’s amazing that this movie works at all, given the suspension of disbelief required of the audience; what it lacks in plausibility it more than makes up for in casting and performance, which are both integral to the success of any film. I can’t say that I needed to see this movie, but then again, so few movies actually need to be seen. As escapist entertainment, Tower Heist does an adequate job delivering the goods.


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