Tower Heist is proof that you shouldn’t necessarily prejudge a film on the track record of its director alone. Brett Ratner is, after all, responsible for such movies as X-Men: The Last Stand, Red Dragon and the Rush Hour trilogy – films that even the most easily-pleased cinemagoer would surely describe as workmanlike at best.
And given that Tower Heist stars Eddie Murphy, whose recent film career is pock-marked with varying kinds of financial and critical disasters, it’s perhaps unsurprising that, among the handful of people I spoke to before going into the screening, there was a certain air of cynicism.
Then again, there must have been something that attracted actors of the calibre of Casey Affleck and Téa Leoni to what on paper sounds like a generic comic crime caper, and as it turns out, Tower Heist is actually quite good fun.
It’s an undemanding post-financial disaster comedy with an underlying theme that isn’t dissimilar to last year’s The Other Guys – both films see a white-collar criminal get his just desserts. In Tower Heist, a group of ordinary co-workers at a luxury apartment building decide to steal $20 million from Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a wealthy investment crook who embezzled their pension fund.
Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, a mild-mannered manager who heads up the operation. Having seen first-hand the misery Arthur’s activities have caused, Josh assembles a team to get even, Robin Hood-style. His accomplices include Casey Affleck’s slow-witted Charlie, Matthew Broderick’s nervy and bankrupt Fitzhugh, and Eddie Murphy as petty criminal, Slide. They’re joined by Enrique, a bellhop played by Michael Peña, and a safe-cracking expert called Odessa, played by Precious star Gabourey Sidibe.
While the presence of Murphy, who’s in full-on Reggie-out-of-48-Hrs shouting mode, may make some viewers nervous, Tower Heist is very much an ensemble piece. Murphy, Affleck, Broderick all share more-or-less equal screen time, though Téa Leoni, who plays Claire, a Clarice Starling-like FBI agent, is sorely underused.
Tower Heist originally began life as a vehicle for Murphy and comedians Chris Tucker, Tracy Morgan and Kevin Hart, before gradually being reworked into the more topical comedy caper it now is. The numerous changes and rewrites may explain the uneven quality of the story and script – writers Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper are all credited, while Noah Baumbach was reportedly hired to write additional dialogue for Ben Stiller’s character.
At times, Tower Heist appear to be going for the kind of edgy, off-colour banter exemplified by something like In Bruges, which sometimes falls wide of the mark. In places, though, the film really springs to life – there’s some great chemistry between Stiller and his conspirators, and Téa Leoni is great at pretending she’s inebriated. Casey Affleck’s really good in a comedic role, displaying great timing and delivery in some of the film’s funniest exchanges.
Tower Heist looks pretty good, too, for a broad comedy. This is largely due to the presence of the great Dante Spinotti, whose cinematography here is, as ever, perfectly framed.
At around 104 minutes, Tower Heist is slightly too long, and its build-up is far funnier and better handled than its eventual pay-off. Nevertheless, it’ll provide a pleasant evening’s entertainment, even if you’ll have forgotten most of it before you’ve even emerged from the theatre. It’s a bit like going out for dinner at a well-known chain of British pubs – the most anyone could hope for is something light and entertaining, and that’s what Tower Heist is.
Sure, there are plot holes large enough to drive the white-collar villain’s expensive Ferrari through in the film’s latter stages, but then again, this is a comedy, not The Town or Heat. Tower Heist never strives to be anything more than an entertaining caper, and against all odds, Ratner’s film fulfils its remit surprisingly well.