When a Bernie Madoff clone defrauds the employees of the palatial tower in which he owns the penthouse, they decide to find his emergency stash and steal it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Brett Ratner may not be the best director in the world, but he knows how to razzle-dazzle.
Tower Heist gives us a heist that we can sympathize with because the target is the man who defrauded the perpetrators out of their retirement funds. Once we’re past establishing that billionaire Arthur Shaw [played with delicious smarm by Alan Alda] is a Madoff clone, we immediate side with the employees of The Tower [Trump Tower, actually].
These poor [literally] souls include the building’s general manager, Josh Kovacs [Ben Stiller], longtime doorman Lester [Stephen McKinley Henderson], less-than-competent concierge Charlie [Casey Affleck], maid Odessa [Gabourey Sidibe], ruined Merrill Lynch financial whiz Mister Fitzhugh [Matthew Broderick] and new-guy elevator operator Enrique Dev’Reaux [Michael Pena].
Not only did Shaw scam a lot of people, he has a swimming pool with a floor patterned after a hundred dollar bill – and Steve McQueen’s Ferrari in his livingroom. If we didn’t dislike the guy before, we certainly do now.
Our would-be thieves have no idea how to pull off their heist, so Josh enlists an angry black dude whom he believes will have the smarts to come up with a plan. Unfortunately, Slide [Eddie Murphy] is so small-time that he’s never stolen over a thousand dollars at one time [‘That’s a felony in the state of New York!’].
Like a lot of heist flicks, Tower Heist spends a fair bit of time establishing a reason for the heist, getting the team together and working out a plan. Unlike many, it is actually working for laughs – which can be problematic because it occasionally puts laughs ahead of sense. Those moments can be overlooked, to a point, because the laughs are [mostly] there.
Even though Tower Heist’s script is the product of a committee [written by Ted Griffin and John Nathanson, from a story by Griffin, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper], it still works pretty well because of some excellent casting [Murphy hasn’t been this funny in over a decade and has amazing chemistry with Sidibe] and because Ratner goes big [he restaged the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade as a key plot element!].
Naturally, with Shaw being arrested for financial fraud on a Madoff scale, there have to be FBI agents involved. The one that matters is Special Agent Claire Denham [Tea Leoni], who empathizes with Josh when he takes a gold club to the Ferrari, but is bound by law – which doesn’t stop her from getting drunk with Josh and accepting his invitation to dinner [Leoni and Stiller have chemistry that rivals Murphy and Sidibe’s].
Tower Heist is a better movie than I was expecting – its fun factor outweighs its plotholes. The ending relies on a strategically placed Russian office worker at the tower, one Ms Iovenko [Nina Arianda] and is not quite as satisfying as it could be, but it’s definitely Ratner’s second-best movie [after Rush Hour].
Final Grade: B-