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2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Tower Heist
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Not-So-Big Payback"
2 stars

If one was to give awards to films based solely on the perfect timing of their release, "Tower Heist" would probably be the biggest prize winner to come along since "The China Syndrome" hit theaters a couple of weeks before Three Mile Island went kerflooey. Not only does it have a premise that, despite being filmed months ago, seems to be torn from today's headlines about the Occupy Wall Street protests and the latest revelations about the depravations of Bernie Madoff, it even contains an offhand joke that takes a poke at Bank of America just as they have been receiving additional bad publicity for their now-defunct plan to charge their depositors $5 a month for the privilege of using their own debit cards to spend their own money. However, tapping the zeitgeist and doing something with said tap are two entirely different things and after a couple of reels, the tap eventually turns to crap and what should have been a sleek, slick and entertaining heist comedy becomes a tiresome bore.

The film is set largely within the confines of The Tower, a super-luxurious Manhattan apartment complex in which every possible whim of its elite clientele is tended to by a large behind-the-scenes staff run by ultra-efficient building manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller). The building's most notable tenant is super-wealthy financial bigwig Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who enjoys insisting to everyone that he is just a regular guys from the streets of Astoria even as he sits in an enormous penthouse complete with a 1963 Ferrari once owned by Steve McQueen himself to really tie the room together. Alas, before you can say "Madoff," Shaw is arrested by the FBI and accused of running a massive Ponzi scheme that has defrauded investors out of billions of dollars. If that wasn't bad enough, Josh invested the pension funds of the staff with Arthur and there money is now gone forever and to make matters worse, Arthur is allowed to return to the Tower to live under the swankest house arrest conditions imaginable while awaiting trial. Previously friendly with Arthur, Josh is outraged, especially after hearing that the building's venerable and now-bankrupt doorman has attempted suicide, and goes up to vent his spleen and while he gets in a few shots at both Arthur and his prized car, he only succeeds in getting himself, clumsy assistant Charlie and new elevator man Enrique (Michael Pena) fired.

Josh is determined to make things right for his former staff and when a loose-lipped FBI agent (Tea Leoni) tells him that Shaw may have stashed away millions of dollars somewhere that have not been accounted for, he figures out that they are hidden in a wall in his apartment and, along with Charlie, Enrique and Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a former financial wizard and building resident who is now destitute as well, hits upon the idea of using their knowledge of the inner workings of the building to steal back what Shaw stole from them. Of course, none of the guys are actual criminals and so they wind up recruiting a couple of additional participants in Slide (Eddie Murphy), a jailbird neighbor of Josh's and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), a Jamaican maid at the hotel who just happens to be able to crack any safe because she is the daughter of a locksmith. Together, they devise an intricate plan to get Shaw and his round-the-clock guards out of the apartment so that they can slip in, crack the safe and escape, all while the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is going on down below. Needless to say, things don't go exactly as planned and Josh and his crew are forced to deal with any number of unforeseen complications ranging from rogue elements within to the aforementioned Ferrari dangling precariously over the street below.

For a heist film to be successful, the filmmakers have to be able to devise a crime that is amusingly complex without tipping over into outright unbelievability and they have to populate it with characters who are interesting and/or likable enough so that viewers want to see them get away with major felonies. One of the best such examples of the genre in recent years was Steven Soderbergh's remake of the Rat Pack epic "Ocean's Eleven, in which a group of oddball criminals banded together to take down a trio of Vegas casinos on New Year's Eve. Although initially presumed to be just a lazy piece of hackwork that would allow Soderbergh and such actors as George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts to coast through on the way to their presumably enormous paydays, the film turned out to be far more clever and resourceful than that. For one thing, Soderbergh and screenwriter Ted Griffin came up with a fairly ingenious plot that set up its central heist in clever and amusing detail in the first half and then developed equally ingenious and narratively consistent ways of playing around with expectations so that even the most attentive audience members were kept guessing. Additionally, the characters were all reasonably well-developed and performed with gusto by a cast that was so perfectly integrated that watching them simply bouncing off of each other and tweaking their off-screen personas was as much fun as the mechanics of the robberies.

There is no doubt that in making "Tower Heist," director Brett Ratner, he of such high-grossing hackwork as "X-Men 3" and the "Rush Hour" series entire, wanted to do his own version of "Ocean's Eleven"--even going so far as to recruit Griffin as a co-writer of the screenplay along with Jeff Nathanson and bringing in Casey Affleck, who appeared in that film and its sequels, to serve as sort of an on-screen totem to subliminally suggest the other films throughout--but while he has obviously studied and enjoyed the Soderbergh film, he doesn't seem to have any firm grasp on what made it work so well to judge from the results here. The premise is enormously promising and could have yielded something really entertaining but seems completely confused as to what to do with it. The basic premise, which practically every ticket buyer already knows even before the opening credits begin rolling, takes so long to get into the nuts and bolts of planning the crime that by the time it finally gets down to it, most viewers will have already begun to give up. Then when it finally gets around to the particulars of the planned theft, they are sketched in such a perfunctory manner that never get a real sense of what is going on as it unfolds before us or how it goes off the rails in ways that force the characters to adapt to the new circumstances. Beyond that, the screenplay is just flat-out lazy in precisely the ways in which it needs to be at its smartest--the characters and their motivations are lazily sketched in and the various plot twists and contrivances required to get from one point to the next are so forced and unlikely that they will test the patience of even the least judgmental viewers. For example, after all the huffing and puffing about the elaborate security measures and the brilliance of the FBI, the only way that the story comes off the way that it is supposed to is due to highly unlikely plot details (such as the deployment of a Playboy magazine including a pictorial featuring Ratner's real-life girlfriend), gigantic plot hole (unless you want to explain to me how a certain item ends up in a certain location towards the end) and a depiction of the FBI that is so unflattering that it makes "J. Edgar" look downright favorable by comparison.

For a director who isn't generally thought of as one of the leading lights of cinema, Ratner has always managed to snare strong casts for his various projects (even going so far as to somehow recruit Roman Polanski to turn up for a small role in the deathless classic "Rush Hour 3") and "Tower Heist" is no exception but even here, the film fails to live up to its presumed promise. Much of the advance publicity surrounding the film has centered on the return of Eddie Murphy to the kind of raucous comedy that he made his name with only to largely abandon in recent years in favor of increasingly fruitless family films and unspeakably bad vanity projects like "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" and "Norbit." It seems clear that Murphy is ripe to burst out with the funny again and I suspect that there are so many moviegoers out there waiting to see such a thing that they will find themselves bursting out with laughter the very moment that he hits the screen here. Looking more confident and comfortable than he has in a while, Murphy reignites the spark of pure personality that made him such a star in the first place but as the film goes on, he winds up being largely wasted by a script that doesn't really have much of an idea of how to utilize him. This is exceptionally strange when you consider that the entire project apparently was initially originated by Murphy himself as an urbanized version of "Ocean's Eleven" that he would presumably star in and now he is reduced to playing a character that is more or less an afterthought. Why couldn't Murphy have played the lead? After all, he certainly would have brought more energy to the proceedings than the terminally bland Stiller and it might have also lessened the uncomfortably racial tinge that occurs as the result of telling a story where the only two characters (not counting the main bad guy) with any evident skill at hands-on thievery are the African-Americans. This may seem like an irrelevant point but I offer it as proof of the film's failings--if it had been even slightly compelling, this aspect might not have been noticeable at all.

"Tower Heist" isn't completely useless, I suppose. Murphy does have some funny moments here and there, Alan Alda is effective as the slick con man (although he has been playing against his nice guy persona by essaying villains of one stripe or another for so long now that it is time for him to start playing nice guys again pronto) and there is one sequence, in which the incredulous Murphy demands that each of his would-be co-conspirators steal $50 of merchandise apiece from the mall they are at to prove their criminal abilities, that is an absolute hoot. The trouble is that these brief highlights only serve to further underline the rest of the film's failings. (Suffice it to say, this may be the one moviegoing experience that I can remember where the presence of Tea Leoni has been one of its less objectionable aspects.) By the admittedly low standards of Brett Ratner joints, I suppose that this is one of his better achievements--it isn't as unforgivably offensive to the sense as most of his other work and the absence of Chris Tucker from the proceedings is an encouraging sign. However, by normal standards, "Tower Heist" is a letdown and after investing their hard-earned money and getting virtually nothing in return, it is the audience that is going to come away from it feeling disappointed and ripped off.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21691&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/03/11 22:51:09
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User Comments

8/30/13 Charles Tatum Actually a lot of fun 4 stars
12/21/11 Isaac I was very disappointed by Tower Heist; it had such potential, but every actor is wasted. 2 stars
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  04-Nov-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Feb-2012


  DVD: 21-Feb-2012

Directed by
  Brett Ratner

Written by
  Ted Griffin

  Ben Stiller
  Eddie Murphy
  Casey Affleck
  Alan Alda
  Matthew Broderick
  Téa Leoni

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