Brett Ratner‘s Tower Heist is a ho-hum in-betweener. It doesn’t try too hard and as a result it achieves about as much as you would expect from an average filmmaker with all the right tools, but lacking the imagination to make a project pop.
It was originally conceived by star Eddie Murphy with the likes of Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Tracy Morgan and Martin Lawrence making up a cast of disgruntled employees preparing to rip-off the owner of a luxury New York condominium tower. As the film made its way to production, the cast changed and the employees’ target became one of the tower’s billionaire residents. In this case our villain is Alan Alda as Wall Street big wig Arthur Shaw.
The ensemble group of employees is led by tower manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) who, beyond his required managerial duties, is on friendly terms with Shaw. The two frequently play online chess and there appears to be some semblance of mutual respect.
As I’m sure you already know, the FBI eventually arrests Shaw for a Ponzi scheme he pulled with his investors’ money, which unfortunately includes the tower employees’ pension accounts. However, $20 million of Shaw’s money has gone missing and, as fate would have it, Josh knows the tower inside and out and believes he knows where the money is hidden.
With the situation becoming increasingly dire after one of the tower’s employees attempts suicide, Josh concocts a plan to get his hands on that $20 million, but he can’t do it alone. He begins building his team with a pair of one-time employees including his brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck) and Enrique (Michael Pena), who’d been working at the tower only a few days before getting canned. Rounding out the group are recently evicted tower resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and the ace up their sleeve, a low rent street hustler named Slide (Eddie Murphy).
But the cast of characters doesn’t stop there. You have the doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson), Josh’s boss Mr. Simon (Judd Hirsch), the Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and FBI agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni). It’s a full cast to be sure and each is given their due.
Not only does Ratner make sure to let us in on the lives of each one of these characters, he also has to worry about getting Arthur Shaw arrested as well as establishing Slide as some sort of street tough before having him arrested and ultimately bailed out of jail as Josh and his merry band of wronged employees come to the conclusion they are going to get their payback. And with that you have your set up, not to mention you’re already an hour into the film.
Tower Heist spends approximately 60 minutes establishing its premise before ever actually executing anything. This isn’t a movie-ending setback, but I did begin to notice the minutes ticking away, wondering when something of any real consequence was going to happen. Even once things begin to pick up in terms of story, it all feels so predictable as screenwriters Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson tried so hard to create characters and put together the heist they forgot to make it entertaining. The comedy is steadily lacking and the heist is altogether quite lame.
When it comes to the cast, only Murphy and Pena stand out, but not to such an extent the film is actually elevated. Pena has his moments and with Murphy we’re getting closer to the Eddie Murphy we loved from his earlier days, especially early on as he’s often seen arguing in the street with a prostitute or demeaning Josh as he walks by on his way to work. However, later in the film his character becomes less and less interesting, but a lot of that can be credited to the film’s screenplay, more than anything Murphy did or didn’t do.
As for everyone else, it’s straight down the middle. Stiller is Stiller, the straight-laced, smart guy who has the ability to snap, while also doing his best to keep things together. Affleck plays a slightly remedial screw-up with good intentions, but at the same time a little self-centered. Leoni is the somewhat attractive, frequently tough female, which is to say she’s essentially the same character she’s played in a multitude of films including Jurassic Park III and even Spanglish. There’s nothing new or interesting to see here.
Ratner’s direction comes with minimal risk as Christophe Beck’s redundant score tries to convince us things are exciting. A big set piece toward the end of the film is accomplished quite well, but the tension isn’t really there and neither are the laughs so it becomes more of a case of just watching what’s on screen rather than having any emotional investment. The only time I actually felt tension was during Slide’s initiation of Josh, Charlie and Enrique where he tells them the only way he’ll help is if they successfully shoplift $50 worth of merchandise from the mall. It’s not the funniest scene, but it’s the only time I actually felt there was anything at stake.
Overall we’re looking at a film that serves as a 105-minute time waster. You’ll get some laughs, a little high rise derring-do and a glimpse at the Eddie Murphy you once knew and loved before he put on the fat suit for The Nutty Professor and stepped behind the animated donkey. He’s still got the timing and he’s still got the delivery, now he just needs the material.