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Tower Heist
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by William Goss

"Take the Money and Run Their Mouths"
3 stars

Brett Ratner has made his name on such workmanlike fare as 'The Family Man,' 'Red Dragon' and the 'Rush Hour' trilogy, but it’s easy to forget that his first film was 'Money Talks,' which – taken separately and literally – are the two things that fuel his latest film, 'Tower Heist.'

Stumbling into relevance in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street uproar, the story pits the crew of New York’s Not-Quite-Trump Tower against penthouse resident Arthur Shaw (a suitably slimy Alan Alda), who defrauded them just as he did all of his clients. Building manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) was singularly responsible for trusting Shaw and giving him control over their long-gone pensions, and so he swears to make it up to them by locating the $20 million that FBI Agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) has drunkenly informed him may be hidden somewhere in Shaw’s apartment. Kovacs isn’t about to do it alone, though: there’s concierge/brother-in-law/father-to-be Charlie (Casey Affleck), newly hired elevator operator Dev’Reaux (Michael Peña), newly evicted resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), sassy maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and local hood Slide (Eddie Murphy), the balls to Josh’s brains.

It’s the type of movie that starts with an exhausting amount of foreshadowing – there’s a pool! here’s a chess match! she’s studying for the BAR Exam! – and throttles forward without any real verve. Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven (also co-starring Casey Affleck and written by Ted Griffin, one of umpteen credited writers here) has effectively set the bar for this decade’s crime capers, and in comparison to Tower Heist, it serves as a remarkable demonstration of how easy filmmaking and effortless filmmaking aren’t necessarily the same thing. Heist doles out quips, gags and reversals with clockwork timing and zero finesse; even Ratner’s other heist film, After the Sunset, felt moderately suave in its wheelings and dealings, however unlikely they became.

What’s more is that Heist has a calculating streak that’s hard to ignore – with nice guys only seemingly tossing themselves in front of subways trains and digital dogs inexplicably tossing themselves down elevator shafts – and plot holes that are even harder to swallow. (In a film filled of law-breaking, even the laws of physics aren’t safe.) But all of the vanishing characters and stretched credibility would be fine if the film itself weren’t only intermittently entertaining.

Stiller plays the straight man to Murphy’s motor-mouth, with the former rarely unleashing his hilariously unhinged temper and Murphy delivering more amusing line readings than actually amusing lines. Leoni steals her one under-the-influence scene opposite Stiller, Sidibe gets a single hilarious exchange with Murphy, while Peña earns more consistent giggles than either. (Between this, 30 Minutes or Less and Observe and Report, he’s proving himself to be quite the secret weapon in comedies.) As for Affleck and Broderick, they seem to be competing for who can seem more sleepy-eyed in the face of so many engineered-to-be-outrageous shenanigans.

All the while, Ratner keeps an air of fantasy to the proceedings, offering up a version of New York City where grown adults openly gawk at the balloons of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as they float down Central Park West. The fact that Stiller and Murphy are paid about as much together as the characters are trying to steal only reinforces this disconnect; while I’m not saying that the rich and famous are forbidden from playing blue-collar and downtrodden, the certain payday that comes with the territory tends to overshadow the underdog routine. 'Tower Heist' is all about making money out of a story about taking money, and while it has a plan, it never really has a pulse.

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originally posted: 11/08/11 08:37:42
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User Comments

8/30/13 Charles Tatum Actually a lot of fun 4 stars
12/22/11 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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