America’s culture of greed has inspired several films in recent years (Wall Street 2, Casino Jack) but Tower Heist decides to take a comic approach. It follows the employees of an upscale condo building who discover that their richest resident — also their accountant — has lost their retirement fund in a Ponzi scheme. The turn comes when the building manager (Ben Stiller) takes personal responsibility for trusting the banker (Alan Alda) and plots to steal the money back from the banker’s well secured penthouse. It’s like a funny Ocean’s 11. Wait, Ocean’s 11 was already funny. Funnier? No… Hrm.
Joining Stiller are a group of characters who have a stake in the robbery. There is Matthew Broderick, another building resident and recently bankrupt Wall Street banker. He didn’t lose any money to Alda but he knows things about money so he’s useful. There’s Eddie Murphy, Stiller’s neighbour, but otherwise a total stranger. He’s been to prison, so he knows things about robberies. Casey Affleck plays Stiller’s best buddy. He DID lose money but he’s eager to keep his job as the new building manager so he decides not to be involved. Wait, what? None of these characters have any stake in the robbery!
It’s an unusual plot. The movie does a good job of making Stiller look sympathetic. He is established as the good guy who made a bad decision that must be corrected. That first act makes sense. From then on, the film decides that it has wasted enough time with this character development nonsense and becomes just some heist movie; the more twists the better.
Almost nobody comes out looking good. Murphy can’t be loud enough to make his character funny. Gabourey Sidibe (yeah, that girl) has five lines in the whole thing. Stiller does a good job of not drawing attention to himself. The best of them is Téa Leoni who plays Stiller’s not-really love interest. For her few minutes of screen time she manages to get in some laughs and good acting. Nice one, Téa.
Tower Heist is brought to you by Brett Ratner of X-Men 3 and Rush Hour fame. You can feel it. This might have worked as a cute little movie, something quirky and imperfect. But then somebody thought it would be improved if he threw a bunch of money at it, made it look real pretty, and cast a bunch of big actors in crappy little parts. It has a pleasant, unexpected ending but it’s not enough to pay off the rest of it.