Tower Heist is one of those movies whose duration seems allusively equivalent to the time required for researching and pondering the previous credits of its several screenwriters, who are collectively responsible for cheeky caper flicks of widely varied pedigree. Concerning authorship, it’s also important to note that director Brett Ratner is the purveyor of the Rush Hour movies, and other readymade sponges of film cognoscenti scorn. Ratner’s films tend to seem like oil spills, always spreading out as broadly and slickly as possible, somehow both gushing and mired down.
Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy seek to settle scores with a corrupt landlord in Tower Heist, a comedy that tries to channel the rollicking caper
hits of the ’80s.
As its title promises, most of the action in Tower Heist occurs at a luxe Central Park West condominium (Trump Tower, in vainly uncredited cameo). The owner and penthouse dweller, played by Alan Alda, is a Madoffian malefactor who routinely condescends to his full-service staff, particularly by siphoning their pensions into his own portfolio. So much for the avuncular doorman’s retirement plans.
This comes as devastating news to building manager Ben Stiller, a paragon of ill-used decency who grew up in the same shabby Queens neighborhood as Alda’s money man, and still lives there, just next door to a decidedly lower-class criminal played by Eddie Murphy. With a tip from wily federal agent Téa Leoni that the smugly unrepentant plutocrat has a stash of millions hidden somewhere, Stiller takes out his anger on the antique Ferrari parked in Alda’s living room. So much for the building manager’s job—not to mention those of dopey concierge Casey Affleck and newbie elevator operator Michael Peña.
Before long, yet not quite soon enough, Stiller has recruited them, along with Murphy and condo evictee Matthew Broderick, a washed-up stockbroker, into a scheme of Robin Hood-inspired revenge. And just when it occurs to you that Ratner and company have been doing a not terrible job of tagging and tracking multiple characters, the movie seems to realize that it’ll have to let some of them go. From here it’s all about the dully ridiculous mechanics of the heist itself.
The lore holds that this movie came to be because Murphy had something like an all-black Ocean’s Eleven in mind. Obviously Tower Heist evolved into something else. But given one dispiriting scene with Murphy getting hit on by Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) as a plump Jamaican safe-cracking maid, it’s regrettably hard to blame the overall debasement on a relative whitewash. Still, particularly with Murphy in scheming-streetwise-loudmouth mode and Broderick employing a wryly underplayed despair, Tower Heist does periodically suggest fondly remembered 1980s caper comedies.
Make no mistake: This is quite proudly a crowd-pleaser. You can hear it in the forward-thrusting funk-pop of Christophe Beck’s score, which gets a little horn-heavy sometimes, the too-emphatic musical equivalent of the film’s cutesy-quarrelsome dialogue (Stiller to Murphy: “I don’t want you talking to me for the rest of the robbery!”). It is funny sometimes, and at least less of a bore than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which serves here as seasonally calculated background.
In troubled financial times, Hollywood-grade sympathy for working stiffs seems like a mixed blessing. If possible, take comfort in the fact that lots of people below the line of big-paycheck fame got jobs out of this.