When a dollar bill comes fresh off the presses at the mint, it is crisp, green, and sturdy. With the passing through hands, that perfect dollar eventually gets crinkled, grayed, and torn. Something similar is what I imagine happened to Tower Heist, a tired sounding but lively looking heist comedy that pries open just enough laughs to overpower the yawns.
Originally titled Trump Heist and billed as an “African American Ocean’s Eleven,” (looking at the mostly white-washed cast on the giant cardboard display in the Loew’s front window, it is clear that the first part didn’t pan out), judging by the five credited screenwriters (whose combined credits include the 2001 Ocean’s remake, Rush Hour 2, and Killers) this film has been through many hands.
Directed by the hit-or-miss Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 1-3, X-Men: The Last Stand), Tower Heist is an ensemble comedy about a group of blue-collar workers at “The Tower,” a Trump-esque high-rise in the heart of New York City. After losing their pensions in a Ponzi scheme to Tower resident Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda attempting his best Bernie Madoff impression), the low-paid yet hard-working group plots to rob the penthouse billionaire.
Timelier than ever, Tower Heist feels oddly dated by robbing bits from better films. Taking the tired-and-true route over originality, Heist’s only true steal is its winning cast. Ben Stiller is comfortable as the building’s General Manager Josh who has an instant rapport with all of his co-workers. There is a nice family vibe on the floor that transcends throughout the film and makes the unbelievable motives have at least some heart behind them. Not as animated looking as he has been in the past, the ever-lively Eddie Murphy more than makes up for Stiller’s complacency. Bug-eyed and fast-talking, Murphy is welcomingly back from the realm of kiddy films and his raunchy delivery is still swift. Playing a thief, Murphy’s screen time is less than the trailers make you believe, but then again, a little of Eddie goes a long way.
Working well with yin and yang relationships in his hit Rush Hour films, Ratner excels at directing the bickering duo, but has trouble with the ensemble as a whole. While surprisingly keeping track of most of the characters, there is a lack of fire in the scenes with multiple actors, the timing never quite hitting the mark. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), donning a Jamaican accent, falls flat the most often, unable to deliver a joke … or a straight face to the comedy A-listers standing beside her.
Matthew Broderick is the most reliable at nailing his snipes as a sad-sack squatter who lost his fortune in the stock market. Michael Pena is goofy as an ex-con employed at The Tower, who unfortunately usually ends up as the punch line of the borderline racist jokes. Téa Leoni (2005’s Fun with Dick and Jane) happily returns to the big screen and cakewalks through her role as an FBI agent assigned to Shaw. With romance in the air between her and Stiller’s character, Leoni brings a pleasantry to the character that lessens the agent’s preposterous actions (I know comedy’s operate on a higher-imagined playing field, but some of the things that happen are more suited for a cartoon).
Under Ratner’s slapdash eye, Tower Heist is fast but choppy. When the titular robbery takes place, it is worth the wait and delivers the biggest laughter dividends. The teaming of Stiller and Murphy deserves better material than Tower Heist – an eye-rolling, semi-funny caper comedy. While the movie is never quite sure if it is a part of the genre or spoofing it, it is certain that Tower Heist does not give a big enough payoff for costing $10 per ticket.
Review By Ryan Mazie