Interestingly, just after seeing Margin Call, which I reviewed in the last issue, I saw another movie in which the bad guy is a Wall Street broker. In Tower Heist, however, the story is more of a disorganized version of Robin Hood than an honest character study of greed and questionable motives.
In Tower Heist, Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the general manager of the most expensive apartment building in Manhattan, the Tower, an elite building where the customer service is second-to-none. Josh personally sees to it that all his employees know the schedules and needs of the tenants and has fostered a close relationship with the penthouse-owner, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). When Shaw is arreste d for defrauding millions of dollar from investors, Josh faces a serious crisis of conscience. Not only did he ask Shaw to invest the pensions of all his employees, he also has a hard time believing that Shaw is even guilty. After long-time doorman, Lester (Stephen Henderson), tries to step in front of a subway train, Josh finds out that he had also trusted Shaw to invest his entire life's savings, just a year before his retirement. Josh, along with his brother-in-law and concierge, Charlie (Casey Affleck), and the new elevator operator, Enrique (Michael Pena), tries to get Shaw to make amends. It becomes clear, however, that Shaw not only won't admit that he's done anything wrong, he also doesn't seem to care. The meeting culminates in an assault on the classic car Shaw keeps in his living room and the termination of Josh, Charlie, and Enrique from their jobs. To get their money back and get their revenge, they decide to rob Shaw of his secret stash of cash. To do so, they enlist the help of Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), evicted Tower tenant; Slide (Eddie Murphy), a small-time thief; and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), Tower maid and expert on safes.
Tower Heist is basically a tale of two bosses. While Ben Stiller plays Josh as a well-meaning if entirely too trusting middle-manager, Alan Alda plays Shaw as a flat, unsympathetic multibillionaire happy to boss "the help" around. Really, though, the screenplay undermines the work of a big cast of good actors. The storyline is choppy and meandering. It comes off as a mashup of a couple different film ideas. Meanwhile, there's no good roles for black actors. Eddie Murphy plays a caricature of performances past and Gabourey Sidibe has fallen a long way from Precious to playing a Jamaican immigrant trying to get a husband to stay in the country. It's a clichéd role that added nothing to the film. In the end, the good boss comes off as all-virtuous and self-sacrificing. The bad boss comes off as a monster. While in Margin Call there was some room for complexity and character development, here the class conflict does little more than create a one-dimensional villain and an easy motive for a poorly-structured heist.
Beyond the screenplay, the production of the film was lack-luster. The score was the same pulsing song, which sounded borrowed from another thriller, over and over. Instead of adding intensity, it became boring. Further, the number of sweeping shots of New York City or Central Park was superfluous. The production, like the screenplay followed a tired formula.
There are some fun moments in the film. If you're afraid of heights, a couple of scenes may genuinely have you on the edge of your seat. Aside from these fleeting moments, however, Tower Heist is definitely a movie to rent or catch when it's on cable. But only if Ocean's Eleven isn't available. 2/5 stars
Tower Heist was written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson and directed by Brett Ratner. It runs 104 minutes andi s rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.