Directed by: Brett Ratner
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda, Gabourey Sidibe
Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins
Release Date: November 4, 2011
PLOT: A group of workers at a New York high rise, led by the manager (Stiller), feel swindled by a wealthy investor (Alda), and conspire to rob his penthouse suite.
WHO’S IT FOR? This is an easy, breezy action comedy which should play to a broad audience.
EXPECTATIONS: Ratner has never really done it for me. I consider his best film to be Rush Hour by default. It seems he believes in Murphy, convincing him to take the Oscar-hosting gig, so maybe he knows funny.
Ben Stiller as Josh Kovacs: Josh knows everyone’s name and what they like. He’s a people pleaser to the nth degree. Sure, his switch to the “dark side” or combative side is sudden, but only because they really do a good job of establishing this character early in the film. Stiller dos actually come off like an everyman. I was a little worried about this. For most of the jokes it’s the same old Stiller, bumbling over words or his assertiveness. His accent absolutely goes in and out. It’s to the point where they should have made it part of his character and someone should have called Josh out as trying to fit in with the rich. That’s how I decided to take it, so I didn’t give him marks off on the accent front.
Eddie Murphy as Slide: Did you ever what would happen to Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine if he had never met the Duke brothers in Trading Places. If so, you’ll be feeling good with Slide. He’s a hustler, a small-time crook who happens to be Josh’s neighbor and apparently a poorly explained childhood friend. It’s an odd leap for Josh to bring Slide into the mix, but that doesn’t mean Slide isn’t necessary for the flow of the film. He’s more valuable than M.F. Jones (Jamie Foxx) from Horrible Bosses. For me, I wish Murphy would go for it just a little bit more in his antics and performance, but this is definitely a step up from his family movies like Imagine That.
Alan Alda as Arthur Shaw: He’s a rich boy, and he don’t try to hide it, diamonds on the soles of his shoes. OK, technically there are no diamonds, but Arthur toes the line on being a smug business man. There is a very personal connection that Arthur has to Josh and the rest of the workers, so when he’s suspected of security fraud, it actually does feel painful for these people. Alda could do this role in his sleep, but luckily he’s wide awake.
Téa Leoni as Special Agent Claire Denham: For a broad movie like this, Leoni nails it. She doesn’t act all girly to prove she’s a potential love interest, and she doesn’t let her outstanding looks lead the way. She’s an FBI agent who roots for the underdog, but still does her job. It’s a small role, but she brings respect to this film. Plus, she is really good at playing drunk.
Rest of Cast: The rest of the group storming the castle is Casey Affleck as Charlie, Matthew Broderick as Mr. Fitzhugh, Michael Peña as Enrique, and Gabourey Sidibe as Odessa. Charlie is Josh’s brother-in-law and it’s an odd mix of being a slacker and knowing your stuff. It didn’t seem totally flushed out, but having a baby on the way makes Charlie someone to root for. His shining moment is the odd over-explanation he gives after he’s sent on a wild goose chase. It honestly reminded me of a young Steve Martin where it’s rambling and coherent at the same time. Mr. Fitzhugh is our rich man who’s now poor. He’s a bad investor, but not mean like Arthur. He’s most out of his element when the gang does actually try to heist the tower, and that’s when Broderick is at his funniest. Enrique has some good moments after what I considered a shaky start. Odessa is Jamaican and looking for a man. She also happens to understand locks, which is just one of the big leaps the film takes in the second half.
TALKING: Most of the humor comes from misunderstandings. Whether it’s Josh trying to explain storming the castle or Slide questioning why he was bailed out of jail, these actors are good enough with the comedic timing to have you laughing fairly consistently in the first half. It’s more about the action in the second half. The message of the movie is fairly simply, greed is bad, and being a hard worker is good, but only if you’re stealing from the bad.
SIGHTS: Over the top? Not until the second half. There are a few too many times that keep creeping in that had me saying, “Really?” Look, I don’t exactly know how much weight a rich-man’s elevator can hold. When a movie is trying to stay in our realistic world, they need to explain the doubtful, and Tower Heist doesn’t try. Therefore, while the look of some of the stunts is accurate, the logic isn’t.
SOUNDS: The musical score is straight-up action, not wacky. This definitely was the right choice, and adds to the vibe of the film. I don’t remember any songs standing out, except for the bad music blaring during Judd Hirsch’s big scene (Hirsch is underutilized).
BEST SCENE: Slide wants the gang to prove they can handle themselves, so he explains to everyone they must go steal something in the mall.
ENDING: I didn’t feel like the entire gang had a proper goodbye, but how they pull everything off is good enough.
QUESTIONS: How did the gang convince Arthur’s lawyer and the FBI that the court date changed? Why didn’t Josh explain to Slide earlier in life that they knew each other? How much weight can your elevator hold? How much does that car weigh? Why own a secret safe and have nothing in it?
REWATCHABILITY: I doubt I’ll ever see this movie again, but if I happen across it on cable, I wouldn’t mind.
When would be the perfect time to have Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in a movie together? You can’t say the ’80s (Murphy’s apex) because Stiller wasn’t relevant yet. There’s Something About Mary and Bowfinger happened a year apart. That’s over a dozen years ago. So these two aren’t exactly hitting home runs every time out right about now. Still, it’s a good move for both of them, and they work pretty well together here. Ratner seems to have replaced Chris Tucker with Eddie Murphy (the original, superior Tucker-type) with positive results.
For me, this is my favorite Ratner film, but that’s not saying too much. Each character is pretty well established, with actual heart and compassion added into the comedy and action. The action eventually overtakes the movie and the pieces don’t totally fit. What did Slide teach the guys that they actually use during the heist? Nagging questions like that keep popping up in a very basic second half. It doesn’t ruin the strong first half of the film, but it does slide, and I’m not talking about Murphy’s character. Tower Heist is like a less funny Office Space with bigger stakes. The fun becomes a little ordinary, but the likeability of the cast keeps it entertaining.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10