I do love a good heist movie. Tower Heist may not be put together like a finely-crafted swiss watch, but it’s not exactly a Timex either. Boasting a solid comedic cast and a smart screenplay, it’s a worthy addition to the genre that brings its own share of suspense.
Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is basically Bernie Madoff: a fantastically wealthy financier who’s arrested by FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni), and accused of defrauding all of his clients, including the pension fund for the staff of The Tower, in which he occupies the penthouse. Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the day manager of the building with a keen eye for detail he uses to stay on top of everything that goes on inside. But when his friend, the doorman, steps in front of a subway train over the loss of his life savings, Kovacs goes ballistic, smashes the windows out of Shaw’s Ferrari 250 — reassembled in his living room — and gets himself fired.
Kovacs believes Shaw has a pile of cash hidden in the apartment, and he’s pretty sure it’s in a hidden safe. He assembles an unlikely team, including his slightly slow brother in law, Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck), the recently-evicted Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), former elevator operator Enrique Dev’reaux (Michael Peña), Jamaican maid and former locksmith Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe), and career criminal “Slide” (Eddie Murphy). Their mission: to break into The Tower — which would be among the most secure buildings in New York City even if there weren’t FBI agents ensuring Shaw’s house arrest — and steal millions of dollars from a locked safe.
This isn’t screenwriter Ted Griffin’s first encounter with the heist genre; he adapted the script for Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven — wisely refraining from the two sequels — along with Ridley Scott’s 2003 Matchstick Men. And he’s come up with a script that’s sharp, if not always particularly deep. Director Brett Ratner is well within his comfort zone, and he pushes the tension well. In a film called Tower Heist, you know there’s going to be some scenes in high places, and they had me, for one, on the edge of my seat.
Stiller’s role as the affable guy just trying to stay on top of things is pretty much his stock-in-trade, so he does it well. Murphy, though, has been playing silly family comedies like The Nutty Professor, Pluto Nash, and Norbit so long that it’s a pleasure seeing him get back to his 80’s Beverly Hills Cop style. Leoni, Peña, and Broderick are all solid in their roles — Broderick, in particular, lands the best line of the film, which any fan of his will recognize — while Sidibe shows some decent promise as a comedic actress. And the always-lovable Alda nails one of his rare appearances as a jerk.
Take a good cast, add a smart writer and a capable director, throw in a little action and hang them all eighty stories up, and you’ll get something worth watching. For once, Hollywood manages not to screw up the simple formula.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.