Movies are such an inconsistent thing. Some are great, some not so much. Some end up surprising you while the quality of others can be deduced simply by watching trailers. Then there are those that are forgotten as soon as you walk out of the theater. Director Brett Ratner’s new film, Tower Heist, is definitely a member of the latter breed. It’s not a particularly bad film, but it’s certainly nothing worthy of praise. It moves, it makes sounds, the credits roll and it’s gone.
The plot follows the employees of a high-rise building, where its tenants expect 24 hour assistance, 7 days a week. There’s Josh (Ben Stiller), the building manager, Charlie (Casey Affleck), Josh’s brother-in-law, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a newly bankrupt Wall Street businessman, Enrique (Michael Peña), a new employee whose only previous work experience is at Burger King, and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), a cleaning maid. All of them have given their hard earned money to their boss, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), and trusted him to invest it wisely for them. However, they quickly realize they’ve been the victims of a Ponzi scheme and have lost their money, putting them all in dire financial situations. Deciding to take matters into their own hands, they partner with Slide (Eddie Murphy), a man with expertise in thievery, to steal Shaw’s fortune.
In what is essentially Rush Hour meets Ocean’s Eleven, Tower Heist is nothing more than a mild pleasantry, which, in this cinematic day and age, is both above average and not enough. It has a few good jokes and it attempts to tap into the economic woes many Americans are feeling today, though it’s not so much a smart deliberation on the 2008 collapse as it is an economic revenge fantasy, but at least it’s relatable. What this movie does so well is flip the real world on its head and bring to justice those who have gained from the suffering of others. It creates an ugly man, seemingly gentle on the surface, but a monster underneath, and puts him in his place. And it does it all with a smile. It doesn’t make any assessment on the current situation; it only uses it as a tool for over-the-top shenanigans.
And over-the-top does it get. This thing gets so crazy, it could be argued it’s more of an economic revenge fantasy than last week’s similarly themed sci-fi fantasy, In Time. The ending sequence is so ludicrous it’s hard to take seriously, but that’s precisely the point. If In Time dissected the current financial situation with political statements and an allegorical narrative, Tower Heist is pure fluff. It’s for those who aren’t aware of the specifics of how we got to where we are, but know they should be angry at someone. A thinking person’s movie this isn’t, but that’s not to say the silly approach to such a serious issue isn’t welcome all the same.
Despite its intention to be simple fun, the heist depicted in the back half of the film is only moderately interesting. It’s not carried out with precision like in other heist movies, but rather in the way one can only assume the script was written: without a plan and in haste. It’s pulled through, however, thanks to its talented and diversified cast. It’s fun watching Eddie Murphy finally let loose again after hiding behind so many fat suits and subduing himself with wretched family comedies. In this movie, as mediocre as it is, he reminds us why we loved him so much all those years ago. The rest of the cast is good as well, though Ben Stiller’s on-again, off-again New York accent is distracting to the point of amateurism. Why an actor who has been around for so long fell into such an obvious trap is beyond me, but he nevertheless does what he can. The problem is there just isn’t much for him (or anyone else) to do that doesn’t involve outlandish situations and helpful narrative coincidences. Tower Heist is diverting fun while it lasts, but it’s not funny enough, smart enough or exciting enough to be anything more.
Tower Heist receives 3/5