Movie review by Greg Carlson
Locked in a battle for attention with the recent off-screen Oscar telecast tempests that bedeviled uncouth director/loose-lipped homophobe Brett Ratner and star Eddie Murphy, “Tower Heist” is vain and empty-headed. A gruesome casserole of lukewarm B.S., “Tower Heist” is predicated on the notion that a cast headed by multimillionaires playing service sector victims of a Madoff-like pyramid scheme can somehow make all of the poor schmucks in the audience forget their economic woes by fantasizing about sticking it to a penthouse-dwelling fat cat. The only problem: “Tower Heist” is not particularly funny and it is certainly not well-written.
Ben Stiller’s Josh Kovacs is the dedicated majordomo of the Tower, a ritzy New York high rise populated by a parade of odious and well-heeled snobs used to being pampered and fawned over by an army of lowly doormen, maids, cooks, drivers, secretaries and other wage-slaves. Wall Street top dog Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the swindling one-percenter whose arrest signals bad news for the building staffers who trusted him with their pensions, shares an uneasy master-servant relationship with Kovacs, but the humiliated underling vows revenge. Enlisting childhood acquaintance Slide (Eddie Murphy) in a nonsensical scheme to steal Shaw’s emergency cash fund, Kovacs spends the balance of his time corralling his bumbling team of thieves.
Murphy, whose “streetwise” Slide was touted as a back-to-basics return to form for the veteran comic, or at least a break from fat suits and saccharine “family” films, cannot quite conjure the early 80s spirit of Reggie Hammond or Billy Ray Valentine, and the movie’s PG-13 rating restricts the level of profanity allowed. It is also mildly disappointing to watch Murphy – who hatched the original idea for “Tower Heist” as an all-black caper before seeing it turn into an “Ocean’s Eleven” wannabe – relegated to second banana status.
Ratner’s hollow aping of Reagan-era action comedies steers the film’s aesthetic (or lack thereof), and the central caper, in which the underprepared and uncoordinated protagonists engineer the removal of Shaw’s priceless Ferrari (purportedly once owned by Steve McQueen) during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, chews up the clock in favor of the timely satire promised by the movie’s trailer. “Tower Heist” should have capitalized on capital, but the rooftop swimming pool’s hundred-dollar bill design is as close as the movie gets to any kind of economic commentary. The definition of the class gulf between billionaire Shaw and hustler Slide needed to be razor sharp, not noodle wet.
Ratner constructs the narrative with no sense of momentum, pacing, or even plot, and while the heavily rewritten script (with un-credited contributions from Noah Baumbach for Stiller’s character) does the filmmaker no favors, the failure of “Tower Heist” belongs mostly to its brash director. The plotters, including Matthew Broderick’s schlubby, bankrupt investor, regularly lose track of their outrage at Shaw’s fiduciary malfeasance, and Shaw himself never comes into sharp focus as a true antagonist. Subplots involving Casey Affleck’s defection from the schemers and Tea Leoni’s shapeless romance with Kovacs exist as dull obstacles incapable of generating even the tiniest shred of suspense over the movie’s predictable outcome.