Tower Heist Showtimes
At the end of the sneak preview I attended for Tower Heist, the audience gave it a hearty round of applause. The caper film is a crowd-pleaser. I enjoyed some of it, but wasn't nearly as enthused as most of the crowd.
Directed by Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour movies, X-Men: The Last Stand), the setting for the story is The Tower, the most expensive residential high rise in New York City. Dante Spinotti offers some impressive camera work, starting with the opening shot of Ben Franklin's face on the bottom of a penthouse pool. His rich images of NYC and The Tower establish a beguiling tone.
Alan Alda plays penthouse dweller Arthur Shaw, a Bernie Madoff type who gets popped for swindling a mind-boggling amount of money. Before that, though, we meet the other key players in The Tower. Ben Stiller is Josh Kovacs, the building's general manager, a dedicated leader and a nice guy. Stiller plays the straight man for most the movie, giving his most likable performance in years. Front desk clerk Charlie (Casey Affleck) is anxious over his wife's pregnancy. He's a lovable screw-up. New hire Enrique (Michael Pena) is naive, enthusiastic and amusing. Lester (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is the charming grandfatherly doorman, and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe, very appealing) is a highly-confident maid from Jamaica. And then there's bankrupt investor Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick, agreeably sad sack), who is about to be evicted from The Tower.
The set-up: After establishing The Tower as a vibrant, incredibly plush facility with a great staff, Arthur Shaw gets popped by the FBI, led Special Agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni, sporting an earthy accent and lots of style), and everything turns upside down for the staff. A well-meaning Josh turned everyone's retirement funds to Shaw for investing, and the money is all gone.
Which brings us to the caper: It is believed that Shaw has a massive amount of cash hidden in case of emergency. Josh decides to steal the money to take care of the ripped-off staff, enlisting the help of every cast member I've mentioned except for Alda and Leoni. Finally, around 40 minutes into the film, Eddie Murphy enters the action as a neighborhood hothead known as Slide. We learn that Josh and Slide knew each other as children, a promising bit of information that is mined for only a few laughs. More important is the fact that Josh feels the heist team needs a real criminal to advise them and Slide is the only one he knows.
Eddie Murphy pops and crackles in his role - it's so nice seeing him play a fiery character again - then, when everything gets rolling really well, he just kind of disappears for a while. The handling of the character is one of the frustrating aspects of the screenplay, the product of several writers.
The credibility issue is a factor. I realize you have to suspend disbelief for this kind of movie, but not for one second did I believe any of these characters could do any of the things we see them do. For Pete's sake, because Odessa is the daughter of a locksmith, she is able to effortlessly crack one of the toughest safes in the world. The overall heist is equally bothersome. Again, suspension of disbelief - I get that - but the scheme presented here would have been rejected as implausible by Wile E. Coyote. Hell, a key plot point involves lowering a large object down the side of the building's penthouse while the Macy's Thanksgiving parade takes place below - gosh, I hope nobody standing on the street looks up.
I wasn't crazy about the resolution of some of the character's relationships either, but let's wrap this up in as positive a fashion as possible. If you're in the mood for light entertainment (and tolerant of a plot that makes no sense), Tower Heist offers good camera work, an appealing cast, a number of funny moments (a shoplifting scene is a highlight) and a solid sense of urgency during the heist, courtesy in large part by Christophe Beck's jittery score. You could do worse.