REVIEW: Tower Heist [2011]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 104 minutes | Release Date: November 4th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Brett Ratner
Writer(s): Ted Griffin & Jeff Nathanson / Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Ted Griffin (story)

“It seems like there’s a gauntlet of lesbians”

Josh Kovacs takes care of his own—it’s his job as the manager of a luxury apartment complex in the heart of New York City. With company policy refusing employees from accepting tips, his workers must treat every resident with the utmost care, compassion, and patience. Josh knows every bellhop, cleaning lady, bankrupt squatter, billionaire Wall Street mogul, and septuagenarian lothario within this glass palace and he treats all as family. Just a guy from Astoria, there is something kind and generous to Kovacs that rubs off on all he touches—an unwavering trust in the people he holds close. So, when Penthouse tenant Arthur Shaw is arrested for a supposed Ponzi scheme that conveniently wipes out the life savings of every complex employee, Josh still holds strong. For him, even an inkling of the titular Tower Heist he will hatch is non-existent. Sadly, we must wade through half a film before it is.

Played by Ben Stiller, this Kovacs might be a long way from the script’s original hope to create a ‘black’ Ocean’s 11. Way back in 2006, names like Chris Rock and Chris Tucker were rumored alongside executive producer Eddie Murphy, but fast-forwarding to the present shows why there are five different credited writers—three of which have only ‘Story by’ titles due to the overhaul. Brett Ratner’s return to multiplexes may not be quite what he wanted, but it is unfortunately exactly what I expected. An over-long heist flick with too much set-up and not enough action sprinkled with a decent helping of laughs courtesy of entertaining supporting roles. Stiller is perfectly cast as the by-the-books building manager with a Robin Hood streak and Murphy can do no wrong as his criminal neighbor Slide, but their antics either end up too extreme for plausibility or not quite crazy enough to warrant all-out comic insanity. It therefore exists in comedy purgatory.

It actually all starts off nicely as a somewhat sprawling, multi-character story within the apartments. I could see the interactions between the different ‘class systems’ playing out for laughs as Kovacs and Shaw (Alan Alda) play chess online together despite their bankrolls being light years away. Josh’s brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck) is a well-meaning, constantly tardy concierge with a good rapport; Mr. Fitzhugh is perfectly over-the-top for Matthew Broderick’s theatricality, depressed and bankrupt trying to avoid eviction; Gabourey Sidibe’s Odessa is worried her Jamaican Visa will expire and needs a husband; and the building’s owner Mr. Simon (Judd Hirsch) hates conflict as he makes Josh do everything. Add in the veteran doorman Lester—beautifully played with emotional nuance and a great smile by Stephen McKinley Henderson—and new elevator operator Dev’Reaux—Michael Peña’s current brand of hysterical stupidity stealing scenes again—and I could see this as a Gosford Park-lite type work.

And for around 40-minutes it almost felt like this is what Tower Heist would be. I found myself clamoring for the heist and yearning for the excitement promised in the trailer—the character study on display not what I expected. Frustration set in as the drama slowly unfolded, but—in hindsight—perhaps I was restless because I knew this steady, subtle look into the complex was actually more interesting then what would come. Once Kovacs wakes up to the reality of humanity’s evil—especially NYC fat cats in Penthouse apartments with rooftop swimming pools lined with a Benjamin—gets fired, patchworks together a very inexperienced crew, and enlists local small-time hood Slide, my interest level decreased. Gone were the heightened relationship studies, lost in lieu of lazy jokes and extreme set-pieces allowing the attempt of five bumbling amateurs to steal twenty million bucks from a man under FBI-secured house arrest.

The writing corps tries to infuse a little romance by doubling their law enforcement as Stiller’s female interest, but Téa Leoni’s Agent Denham only ends up more worthless a character then when randomly close-lining him during a bust. Besides an awkward scene at a bar where both Leoni’s and Stiller’s attempts at accented drunken slurring makes the word ‘balls’ a punchline without a joke, their chemistry together is forced and never more than a clichéd attempt to make the FBI sympathetic to a crime they must prevent. I’d even go as far as saying the relationship between Lester and Kovacs has more sparks than this possible love tryst, the doorman’s attempted suicide serving as the catalyst to what’s to come. It all comes back to how effective the comings and goings inside the apartment complex were—outsiders to that paradigm don’t stand a chance.

All is not lost, though, as Murphy’s Slide infuses some good laughs by forcing Stiller, Affleck, Peña, and Broderick to steal from a mall in order to prove their commitment. He is perfect at spicing things up, taking three family men and an ex-fast food employee out of their comfort zone. It’s this push that makes Broderick a worthwhile addition to the cast, embodying the stress of an accountant engaging in criminal exploits to great effect. His wide-eyed expressions don’t go too far because he really is completely out of his element. Between he, Stiller and Affleck’s working class intelligence getting them through, and Peña’s giddy desire to be bad, this strange group of men do in fact make the heist entertaining. What happens afterwards is convoluted and easy, but when those four guys are bickering and imagining crazy ideas while Murphy manically tries to cut them out of the loop, mindless entertainment does almost prove enough.

[1] (L to R) Josh (BEN STILLER), Mr. Fitzhugh (MATTHEW BRODERICK), Dev’Reaux (MICHAEL PEÑA), Charlie (CASEY AFFLECK) and Slide (EDDIE MURPHY) conduct surveillance in “Tower Heist”, an action-comedy about working stiffs who seek revenge on the Wall Street swindler who stiffed them. Credit: David Lee Copyright: © 2011 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) and Chase Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) stars in Tower Heist.
[3] Gabourey Sidibe star as Odessa Montero in Universal Pictures’ Tower Heist.

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