By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Nobody’s saying that Tower Heist towers over all other heist flicks, but it’s got something most of those evergreens don’t even pretend to have: timeliness, whether purposeful or accidental.
Tower Heist is a comedic caper thriller about a Wall Street swindler and the working stiffs who try to stiff him back.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, an apartment building manager in New York City who rounds up the employees at a luxurious, secure Central Park condominium, a Trump-ish apartment complex (the original title: Trump Heist) as part of a plot to steal from one of the penthouse residents, a billionaire financier named Arthur Shaw, played by Alan Alda.
Why? Because Shaw had been entrusted to manage their pensions, which have been lost as a result of his Ponzi scheme (yes, he, umm… made off with their moolah), and because Shaw is now under house arrest, having been caught stealing not just the staffers’ future but several b-b-billions from his investors.
So the inexperienced thieves, who at least know the ins and outs of the Columbus Circle highrise, turn to a petty crook named Slide, played by Eddie Murphy, for help with planning their lifting of $20 million of Shaw’s money, currently guarded in his condo.
Stiller and Murphy are the stars above the title, but this is essentially an ensemble piece — and a populist one at that. The veteran cast also includes Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena, Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Judd Hirsch, and Stephen McKinley Henderson.
Director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour trilogy, Red Dragon, The Family Man, X-Men: The Last Stand) isn’t interested in exploring his can’t-miss premise, resonating as it does in this era of financial injustice and economic outrage, beyond the most superficial of levels. That’s why the first act lands with so much more audience-pleasing power than the two acts that follow.
But there are enough scattered laughs throughout, hand-delivered by a canny ensemble, to keep us invested, occasionally even touched or nervously stimulated, despite a shaky screenplay (by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, based on a story by Griffin, Bill Collage, and Adam Cooper) that’s not exactly a high-rise of insights into our financial woes.
Worse, it’s a swiss-cheese tapestry of plot holes and arbitrary, nonsensical occurrences. Farfetched is one thing, but this elaborate scheme is — let’s face it — laughably preposterous.
Ahh, maybe that’s half the fun.
After all, the film’s haves-versus-have-nots theme, however unexplored, still registers as sympathetic to members of the working class dealing with the issue of financial inequity off-screen. And it’s not the writers we’re watching and spending time with, but the performers, as a solid Stiller, a delightfully understated Broderick, an appropriately villainous Alda, and especially a vintage, wiseacre Murphy — who is back in street-savvy form, served as one of the producers, and should have given himself more screen time — lead the way, delivering a shallow but broadly entertaining divertissement.
So we’ll turn the tables on 2½ stars out of 4 for the recession-relevant revenge romp, Tower Heist. Don’t go seeking perspective or wisdom, but for two hours of escapism, it’s a steal.