A film review by Craig J. Koban November 10, 2011
2011, PG-13, 104 mins.
2011, PG-13, 104 mins.
Josh: Ben Stiller / Slide: Eddie Murphy / Charlie: Casey
Affleck / Arthur Shaw: Alan Alda / Mr. Fitzhugh: Matthew
Broderick / Agent Denham: Tea Leoni / Enrique: Michael Pena / Odessa:
Gabourey Sidibe / Mr. Simon: Judd Hirsch
has often been said that the heist film is only as good as, well, its main
heist. The very finest
examples of the genre are ones where the planned caper in question is
methodically outlined, planned, and executed with all of the requisite
shocking twists therein. Part
of the pure enjoyment derived from these types of films rests solely in
the details of the scheme itself and all of the setbacks and obstructions
that impede the progress of the protagonists.
Ratner’s TOWER HEIST is a peculiar heist film because its
climatic heist is so far-fetched, so preposterous, and concludes in such an
unconvincing fashion that it should have all but derailed the film.
It’s okay for film heists to be utterly convoluted and seemingly
impossible to pull off, but it helps when you have characters that come
across as being up to the task of accomplishing such an complicated and
intricate plan. The likeable,
but somewhat hapless and downtrodden personas in TOWER HEIST come off as
so uncoordinated and ill-footed that your suspension of disbelief in their
abilities is elevated to dizzying extremes.
to TOWER HEISTS’ success, though, is not with the realism of its
central robbery (it's pure inanity), but rather with its likeable
characters. The film
contains a rich ensemble of notable comic-dramatic actors that assists
with the pure enjoyment factor of the film; the scenes that highlight
their brothers-in-arms camaraderie together as they hatch their ultimate
recession-era revenge theft keeps the film merrily moving along.
The performers all find a nice groove together with one another and
are so good together that they essentially help to override any issues
viewers will most likely have with the implausibility of their plan.
TOWER HEIST ain’t no OCEAN’S ELEVEN, nor is it trying to be.
It’s a appealing, modestly funny, and entertaining fluff piece
showcasing its talent…and not much more.
risk of using clichés, the story of the film is sort of ripped from
the headlines…at least of the economic variety.
Most of the film resides within the luxurious confines of a high
rise Manhattan tower complex that contains apartments priced in the millions.
In the top penthouse resides a multi-billionaire named Arthur Shaw (a
deceptively awesome Alan Alda) that has made a fortune as a financial
guru. He’s so stinking rich
he even owns a bright red 1953 Ferrari that was once the property of Steve
McQueen and had to be taken apart and then reassembled piece by piece to
be placed in his living room as a trophy.
Hmmm…you just known that the movie rule involving all priceless
antique cars dictates that this Ferrari will not just sit idle for the
remainder of the film.
looked after by the tower’s help, and on any given day they look after
all of his needs in meticulous and well-timed detail.
There’s the concierge, Charlie (Casey Affleck); the elevator man,
Enrique (Michael Pena); the approaching-retirement doorman, Lester
(Stephen McKinley Henderson); and their boss, Josh (Ben Stiller) who takes
his job as seriously as a heart attack.
He has a very good and trusting working relationship with Mr. Shaw,
so good that he elected to have both his and his employees'
retirement funds be re-invested by Shaw.
Of course, this level of intimate trust hits a wall, so to speak,
when the FBI comes charging in, led by agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni) and
captures Shaw and promptly puts him in handcuffs.
appears that Shaw’s duplicitous financial dealings would make Bernie
Madoff blush. Not only has he
been running a deceitful Ponzi scheme for years, but he also was doing it
with all of the tower staff’s retirement funds, leaving them with
nothing in the aftermath. Josh
sees this, obviously enough, as the ultimate betrayal of trust, so he
decides to enact a wicked revenge plan to secretly gain access to Shaw’s
apartment (now being monitored 24/7 by the FBI) and find Shaw’s hidden
safe where he presumably has millions of undeclared dollars.
Josh realizes that his knowledge of the intricate security systems
in the tower will only get him so far, so he recruits his fellow staff
members to embark on his plan for ultimate comeuppance.
He also recruits a chamber maid (PRECIOUS’
Gabourey Sidibe) - that just happens to be an expert safe cracker - and a tower
resident that was once a Wall Street shark, now a flat broke everyman, Mr.
Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) to help with the details.
However, Josh takes his biggest gamble on getting the help of a
small time hood named Slide (Eddie Murphy) to assist with teaching these
nine-to-five working stiffs how to be gangsta criminals.
don’t want to say anything specific about the heist itself (far too many
critics have spoiled the details already; shame, shame on you all!), other than to say that, as
stated, it’s the film’s weakest component.
It culminates in something, shall we say, very, very large
and heavy being dangled out of Shaw’s penthouse apartment while the
Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is occurring far below (funny, not one parade
spectator sees this). The
perfunctory twist in the heist itself is not all that surprising as it’s
pretty much telegraphed very early in the film. Considering the fact that TOWER HEIST was written by the men
who respectively wrote MATCHSTICK MEN, OCEAN'S ELEVEN and CATCH ME IF
YOU CAN (Jeff Nathanson and Ted Griffin) I was expecting perhaps a more
fiendishly ingenious and delicately layered robbery.
No dice, here.
the film is always satisfying because of its star power.
Stiller in particular is kind of refreshingly reigned-in as his
heist leader (the temptation must have been there for him to ham it up,
but he exerts some control and discipline here playing the straight man).
Matthew Broderick gets some strong laughs as his sad sack and
penniless Wall Street victim ("If you need me, I’ll be living in
this box,” he hilarious deadpans at one point).
Gabourey Sidibe is splendid as a tough as nails Jamaican who likes
to mix it up with the boys. Michael
Pena is also likeable here (he might be the only actor that can plausible
alternate between playing idiotic and clever roles).
Casey Affleck brings his trademark rapid-fire verbosity and Tea
Leoni is feisty and empowered as her FBI agent.
performances stand out for me, the first being the remarkably undervalued
Alan Alda, who seems to be churning out a new film career path for himself
for playing ruthless baddies whose grandfatherly charm masks a
contemptuous and slimy villainy. Then
there is Eddie Murphy, who has not been this funny in a film since
1999’s BOWFINGER playing the type of roles that made him a star:
wisecracking, crude, belligerent, and joyously unhinged streetwise
motormouths. Seeing the
50-year-old comedy star (!) return
to the movies after a three-year hiatus – and after a decade of truly
regrettable comedy and family film misfires – and return to his edgy and
unpredictable form of yesteryear is a real treat.
He’s not in TOWER HEIST much until about the middle of the
picture, but when he’s sprung loose he all but dominates every scene
Ratner himself is not a director that inspires a whole lot of confidence in some critics, as his career has been a tumultuous pendulum of varying degrees of quality. However, he made, for my money, the second best film featuring Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector in RED DRAGON as well as the very entertaining RUSH HOUR and the fairly well assembled X-MEN III. Ratner’s skills, I think, are at gathering together components to manufacture broad-scale, audience-placating hits. Most of his films are empty-minded and don’t have much - if anything - to say, and TOWER HEIST is no exception (it seems almost petrified to engage in any topical discourse about our recent economic woes). The film certainly has its limitations, but TOWER HEIST is snappy, energetic, and, most importantly, fun and hard to dislike as long as you’re willing to disregard its more implausibly mind boggling elements.
Don’t get me started on that Ferrari.