Tower Heist – 2011

Directed by Brett Ratner
Starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, Téa Leoni, Casey Affleck, Judd Hirsch, Matthew Broderick,  Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe
Screenplay by Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson

There is something sharp and very clean about a Brett Ratner film.  There never seems to be any sort of litter, refuse or debris anywhere on the screen.  In Tower Heist, the closest we come to garbage on the screen is Eddie Murphy, channeling Reggie Hammond.  This is a good thing. Say what you will, but I have not had the want to see Murphy in a film since I saw the commercial for Beverly Hills Cop II.  Sure, his Nutty Professor films were both pretty good, but the only Murphy I have ever liked is the one that had some smooth grit.

In this film we get to see Ben Stiller at his underwhelming serious mode, Casey Affleck as a toned down version of that.  Peña and Sidibe at the very least look like they are having a great time.  Matthew Broderick, well, he plays the post Ferris Bueller Broderick.  You know what that is.  It’s not that it’s not a nice character, it’s just seemingly his only character now: miserable and getting a divorce.  Alan Alda is in his West Wing “conservatives steal from the poor” mode, and he’s done that a lot lately too.  Leoni as a FBI agent is about as likely as Leoni giving the clothes line to Stiller at full speed, but oh, I digress.

The trick to this movie is not who they’re robbing, but what they are robbing and why.  The why is pretty weak stuff as they make Alda’s Arthur Shaw an embezzler, Ponzi schemer, or whatever might stick.  So for some reason, Alda gets to be in his suite on house arrest.  Why this happens is, essentially, to give him more screen time with Stiller’s Kovacs, creating tension and motive. Getting Murphy’s “Slide” was a scene almost directly out of 48 Hours.  Hiring a black guy as a thief is some pretty blatant stereotyping, but hey, Murphy fits the part, so its cool.

One thing that Murphy can do that seemingly no one else could is to give Sidibe some sex appeal.  When he asks her, “Sup?”  We believe that they are a match.  That is true talent.  Other than this, we see him do variations of his former routines.  While these are fun, they have all been done before.  Stiller seems there for his name only.  There is nothing he does here that could not have been done as well by, say, Aaron Eckhardt.  This is not a condemnation.  Even John Sayles cashed in once in a while.

Ratner has done better work, (Red Dragon, After the Sunset) and he has done worse (Rush Hour 2, 3 or whatever number he stops at).  If you watch Tower Heist, you probably won’t be let down in any way based on what one sees in the trailers.  It is not the kind of movie that one would pay to see a second time, though.  One won’t mistake Murphy, Stiller and Broderick hanging out a window to anything they’ve seen Tom Cruise do.

(*** out 0f *****)


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