Review: 'Tower Heist' Offers Genuine Fun, Forgettable As It May Be
by Jeremy Kirk
November 3, 2011
Brett Ratner is a name that scares many. A lot of avid movie goers see that name, and shivers instantly trail up their spine. For many, though, Ratner's name isn't even one that comes across their radar. He makes easy films, accessible films, films that don't challenge his audience in any way. They only strive to entertain, and for a lot of casual movie watchers, that's enough. There's so much Brett Ratner preamble here, because his latest film, Tower Heist, is another in a long line of accessible comedies. But rather than grating on the nerves—Tower Heist doesn't have Chris Tucker's shrieking voice like Rush Hour—it rests comfortably in front of you, plays out with all the edge of a buffed pool ball, and does a somewhat successful job of making you laugh. Not exactly high praise for a film, but when Ratner is in the director's chair, "not that bad" seems to be saying something.
It's overly complex story revolves around a high rise apartment building in Manhattan. Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the building manager who does everything in his very skilled powers to make his residents more than satisfied in their living conditions. The most notable of these residents is Arthur Shaw, a billionaire businessman who lives in the penthouse, played by Alan Alda. And so it goes that Shaw is charged with embezzling millions, money that most of the building's workers had invested in him for their pension. Kovacs and a small band of miscreants devise a plan to break into Shaw's apartment and steal the small fortune they believe he has stashed there.
The team of screenwriters and story developers on Tower Heist have created characters colorful enough to be entertaining. Hardly any of the main characters, Kovacs; Charlie, his best friend and brother-in-law; Slide, a crook Josh brings on the team to teach them the ropes; nor Claire, the FBI agent assigned to watch over Shaw, are one-dimensional or underdeveloped. That's where much of Tower Heist's success comes from, in the establishment of its characters and the execution given by its actors.
Stiller is fine, funny as always, even though his Brooklyn accent leaves something to be desired. But the side character are where the actors behind them really step up to deliver. Eddie Murphy doesn't just hide behind his leather jacket and grimace. He uses those aspects of his character to make it all the more comical, almost edgy. Well, as edgy as PG-13 will allow, anyway. Matthew Broderick as a bankrupt businessman living in the building plays his character with all the comfort of a sharpened back-scratcher, but that's the kind of performance Broderick can deliver effectively. The character calls for that level of discomfort, and the actor obliges. Téa Leoni plays adorable tough better than most, and does so once again with Claire. Gabourey Sidibe as a Jamaican maid may very well clean up around everyone, blasting her words with a believable accent and scrunched face.
All of the actors in Tower Heist are believable, even if their characters or their actions aren't. The colorful characters, the comedy, that's where Tower Heist succeeds. The plotting, pacing, and effectiveness of anything that's going on in the film, that's another matter altogether. The screenwriter, even Ratner in the way he executes the action, seem only concerned with getting from one point to another. It doesn't matter how it's done. Sometimes we aren't even shown how it's done, probably because there was no way of figuring it out. Then it moves as quickly as it can to the next point to keep the audience from questioning anything.
Sadly, this game of hit-and-move Tower Heist plays with the audience keeps us from really taking in anything good it has to offer. There are some good action beats scattered in with the comedy. A decent stunt with a van early on looks real and feels weighty. Even certain stunt work in the building's elevator shaft is presented with some obvious special effects, but there's also a movement Ratner brings with his camera that doesn't feel shoddy or thrown together at the last minute. At least you can tell he's thinking about the other directors he's mimicking when you watch Tower Heist.
And it all comes together in the end to create something fun, colorful, maybe even witty from time to time, but absolutely disposable. Tower Heist is a greeting card of a movie, and even with pretty lettering, eye-catching color, and snazzy presentation—it might even be one of those cards that plays a familiar tune when you open it—it all serves to be discarded in a matter of moments. Tower Heist falls into that "it's not bad" category a little too comfortably, but it's slightly above-average look and feel can't be ignored. At least for the time being. Tomorrow we won't even remember the movie ever existed.
Jeremy's Rating: 5.5 out of 10