***1/2 (out of 5)
November 4, 2011
Ben Stiller as JOSH KOVACS
Eddie Murphy as SLIDE
Casey Affleck as CHARLIE
Alan Alda as ARTHUR SHAW
Matthew Broderick as MR. FITZHUGH
Stephen Henderson as LESTER
Judd Hirsh as MR. SIMON
Téa Leoni as SPECIAL AGENT CLAIRE DENHAM
Michael Peña as ENRIQUE DEV’REAUX
Gabourey Sibide as ODESSA
Directed by: Brett Ratner
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
When I wrote my review for “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,” I confessed that I wasn’t a pot head, nor had I ever smoked it. As I sit down to write my review of “Tower Heist,” I have another confession to make… one that is far more scandalous:
I like Brett Ratner’s movies.
Look, I know he’s considered one of the biggest hacks in Hollywood, up there with Michael Bay and McG. But there’s something about how the guy puts together a film that works for me. Although every movie he’s made is flawed in some – or many – ways, I like all the ones I’ve seen. So in spite of my better judgement as a respected film critic, I actually get a little excited when a Brett Ratner movie opens.
So while the trailers for “Tower Heist” reeked of something awful, I couldn’t help but get into them. It’s no “Oceans Eleven” (new or old, for that matter), but it has a certain charm. And considering this movie went through many stages of development hell, originally planned for an all-black cast robbing Trump Tower, it’s quite well put together.
The story follows the staff of a high-class apartment building in New York City who learn their richest resident Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) has been indicted on securities fraud. To make things worse, he had been handling the staff’s pension account, and that account is now down to zero. So to get revenge and a little piece of his stole pie, the staff plan to steal the suspected $20 million of cash Shaw had socked away in case he had to escape.
I’m not sure what crystal ball Brett Ratner was looking through when he finally got this project off the ground, but the timing of its release is quite serendipitous. With the Occupy Wall Street movement invading other cities, the tensions between the rich and the poor are as high as ever. This definitely plays into the hand of this film. But what’s actually quite brilliant about it is that Ratner sets it up not as poor-versus-rich, but rather as poor-versus-rich-crooks. In this framework, it’s easy to slough off the fact that Ben Stiller was paid $15 million to be in the movie, and Eddie Murphy was paid $7.5 million.
I can’t tell whether the return on Universal Studios’ investment will completely pay off, but it’s a well-cast film. With the exception of a few lines delivered by Ben Stiller that were uncomfortable and clearly written for someone like Martin Lawrence, the actors really fit in their roles. Stiller leaves most of his annoying tropes at the door and embraces the everyman.
As his criminal counterpart, Eddie Murphy is surprisingly fresh in this film. After spending a decade and a half in family film purgatory (where he made decent films like “The Nutty Professor” and godawful movies like “Meet Dave”), Murphy has finally returned to the edgy hero he was known for in the 1980s. And he nails it. We get reminded why he was such a box office draw last century, and I hope he continues down this road.
The pacing of “Tower Heist” isn’t perfect, but it works. Like other action-comedies that Ratner has directed (primarily the “Rush Hour” films), “Tower Heist” has some pretty funny moments while also delivering some fun action. It drags a bit in the middle, and there’s about five percent of the script that never recovered from the script doctoring scars inflicted in the past five years of rewrites, but for the most part, “Tower Heist” is a perfectly enjoyable film… far more enjoyable than it has any business being.